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Why I Don’t Say the Pledge July 3, 2011

Posted by frrobins in activism, atheism, Christianity, Church and State, critical thinking, Current Events, Memories, Personal, Pledge, Politics, Religion.
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I don’t say The Pledge of Allegiance. I haven’t since I was in junior high school. One day I’m hoping I will get the guts to not stand during it. Why? Because I find saying the Pledge rather anti-patriotic. I feel that to be an active participant in a democracy you have to think critically and keep yourself informed on issues. Patriotism is not a passive process for me but an active one. Saying someone someone else wrote does not employ critical thinking nor does it illuminate one on important issues facing our country. In fact, I think it discourages critical thinking by inducing everyone to say the same words without thinking about what they are saying.

And since most of us started saying the Pledge in elementary school, this just reinforces the idea to me that it is a rote habit rather than something we are thinking about.

I was probably five or six when my parents explained to me that while they would say the Pledge, they would be silent during the “under God” part. We are atheists and don’t believe in God, and feel that saying “under God” violates our conscience. So for awhile I would say the Pledge and stay quiet during “under God.” Until the third grade when other kids found out I was an atheist and teased me for it. Until then it never occurred to me that I would be teased for not believing in one less god than everyone else, and it never occurred to me that my religious convictions were something to be hidden. Yet when I started a new school having people find out I was an atheist was something that terrified me.

So then I was caught in a trap. I know a lot of people would say that I should have just said “under God” and shut up about it. Yet I have always been driven by the need to live my life truthfully. Even as people around me rejected me, I could never stop being who I was without causing myself extreme mental anguish. So on the one hand I was terrified that if I didn’t say “under God” people at my new school would notice and ask why, yet if I said it I felt that I was being dishonest. It was a horrendous dilemma for an elementary school student to find herself in.

Sometimes I’d say “under God” other times I wouldn’t. One time I even noticed another kid nervously refrain from saying “under God”. I remember wanting to ask him so badly if he believed the same way I did but was too scared to.

Then one day, I’m not sure when, I just stopped saying it. Some days I would, others I wouldn’t. I would always stand so as not to draw too much attention to myself, yet I was quiet the whole time. By the time I finished junior high it was a habit. By the time I was in high school, I’d even stopped putting my hand over my heart.

I’ll make no bones that it started out as a way out of my dilemma and that it is now, as an adult, that I rationally justify my actions. And the reason is that no one should be compelled to say something they don’t believe in. This is America, after all, where we have the freedom to worship one God, or one Goddess, or many Gods and Goddesses, or none at all. This is America where we have freedom of speech, which includes the freedom to not be compelled to spout views you don’t agree with. Yet every morning we compel children to recite words as if they are automatons.

And it’s not just atheists who have moral dilemmas concerning the Pledge. Jehovah’s Witnesses and other Christian groups experience a conflict because their beliefs prevent them from pledging allegiance to anyone other than God.

My questions to people who support forcing others to say the Pledge is, how is democracy served by forcing people to say a pre-written pledge? What do schoolchildren learn about being active participants in a democracy by saying the Pledge? How are we teaching kids to think critically when we are forcing them to spout words unthinkingly from their mouths? How does saying the Pledge foster patriotism? What is gained by forcing people to say things they don’t agree with? Seems to me like it’s just a good way to incite them to rebel.

And to those who say you can just say quiet while everyone else says it, I will point to my above experiences. Staying quiet while everyone else says the Pledge is a good way to paint a target on yourself in school. Kids should not be put in the position between following their conscience and fear of being bullied for being different. Period.

If you want to say the Pledge every morning, go ahead. I won’t stop you. If you want your kids to say it, then say it with them in the morning before they leave for school. Yet everyone else should not be forced to say the Pledge if they are not amenable, and I for one am not.

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The Times Have Changed – A Belated Thanks May 30, 2011

Posted by Bill in atheism, Family Values, Personal, Uncategorized.
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I am rather behind the times in writing this.  But then that is hardly surprising.  Normal day to day living can put a person behind on so many things – from the mundane such as yard work and learning Spanish to the more important such as telling loved ones that they are loved. 

This falling behind the times is even more pronounced when the times themselves are changing drastically.  Even if those changes are good and wonderful as well as scary and concerning. 

This is my attempt to catch up on one of the more important items that I am behind on – about six months behind in fact. 

I was updating my profile today to reflect some changes that occurred over seven months ago.  A mundane update.  However in starting this I realized that I really needed to do something more.   This change demanded something be done more important than just updating my profile.   

This is the something more.

In my blog profile I mentioned working as Operations Manager at a production facility.  I also made it clear that while it brought in some good money it was not one of my passions.   It was, however, OK and I didn’t hate it.  I did well, receiving good evaluations, promotions, nice raises, and had the respect of my people and peers. 

Things changed though a few years ago when our then Plant Manager left to take a new position with another company.  I was made interim Plant Manager and asked if I wanted to be among those considered for the position.  Given my lack of passion for it, the fact that I already was working more hours than I really cared for, and the fact that I did not wish to travel as much as the position would require – I declined and thanked them for seriously considering me.

After about four months of being interim Plant Manager they hired someone to take the position permanently.  Two months later I was beginning to regret my decision not to go for it.  As were many at the plant. 

I will not go into the details here other than to say that the man had good and innovative ideas, was very knowledgeable about the budgetary details and processes so important for Plant Managers, had extensive experience in setting up data bases that were useful in tracking the Plant’s process.  However his people skills and management style were abysmal.  He made the workplace very difficult to work for and, for me, turned what was a tolerable situation into one that was a nightmare.

He tended to accuse first and if you successfully defended yourself there was no apology.  He came across as abrasive, so much so that I had two or my people within the space of a month burst into tears under his questioning – and he wasn’t even in full chew out mode.  He either did not know or did not care to compliment people on what was done right, only chew on them.   He also was a poor communicator on his expectations and although he made the right noises about being willing to help if asked, his help was not really helpful.   

However, despite these flaws, he did make sure that the Plant was profitable and turned out a quality product.  As long as he did that no one at our corporate office was going to do anything about the manner in which he accomplished this. 

Given our financial situation at the time I did not feel that I could just quit without having another job with comparable pay in the hand.  And it needed to be in the area since Dindy had a nice job making the same amount of money I was.   I was looking but not having much luck in finding anything. 

So often the word “change” is a scary word.  Something to be avoided if at all possible.  Many, if not most, people usually use the word change in reference to bad things happening – such as my new Plant Manager.  However something happened then that proved that change can also be a good thing.

My wife changed jobs. 

Dindy had been looking for a few years for a different position in her chosen career.  Given what we were both making she could afford to be patient and she did like both her work and her employer.  Her patient looking paid off.  She found her dream job. 

It was in her career field, it was a promotion, the work atmosphere was great, the job more challenging and responsible – in short it was the best job she could imagine.  And what was even better, in terms of my situation, she was going to get a substantial raise.  One that would allow us to again start taking vacations to spots further away than the Texas coast or the Oklahoma parks.  One that would allow us to make some needed repairs on the house and even to improve it.  One that would allow us to build up our very low savings account.  One that would allow us to make investments and really start saving and preparing for a possible early retirement. 

Substantial enough where I no longer had to worry about getting a position that matched my current salary.   That was wonderful enough for me in and of itself. 

However the changes were not finished yet. 

In the middle of October 2010 I had taken two days off for a four day weekend.  I did so because I was about to lose a key person for maternity leave and I would have to help fill in and do a substantial amount of her work since we had no substitute who could do all of her functions.  Given that I wanted a few days off before starting on 70 hour weeks. 

I received a call from my work on my first day off, Thursday.  They told me that I needed to come in Friday because my worker was going to be starting maternity leave then instead of the scheduled Monday.  I knew that this might happen, so while disappointed was not surprised.  What did surprise me was the fact that my Plant Manager told me this came about because of my bad management decisions and then also questioned my ethics, implying that I had been hiding some information.   I was not given specifics on the phone.

After hanging up I spent a few moments ranting and raving to myself.   And cussing my Plant Manager.  After calming down a bit I decided that I needed to go talk to him and find out what management “mistakes” I had made and what information had I hidden.  First though I talked to Dindy.  Well, actually I ranted for a bit more.

I had made mistakes before – who hasn’t.  Although in this particular case I could not see that I did make any mistakes.  But I had never – never – never – had my integrity questioned by any Plant Manager (and I had been under three others before the current one) nor at any of my other jobs.  

After I had started to calm down enough where I felt I could go talk calmly with my Plant Manager Dindy then surprised me.  She told me to quit. 

She told me to quit even though I had no job lined up or even one on the horizon.

She told me to quit even though we had not had a good vacation in years.

She told me to quit even though we had not built up our savings or even started on our investments for retirement.

She told me to quit even though we had not done any of the repairs or improvements on the house. 

I was dumbfounded.  Delighted.  And scared.  We talked for quite a while about this.  She told me that she wanted me to enjoy myself again.   She told me that I had been difficult to live with – moody, short tempered, and not laughing as much as I used to – ever since this new Plant Manager had come on board.  She told me she was greatly concerned about my health and happiness.  She told me that my happiness and our happiness together mattered more than the money. 

She told me that she wanted me to look and pick a new career that I would enjoy and not worry about the money. 

After a great deal of assurances from her that she meant this I hung up and went to talk with my Plant Manager.  I did not go intending to quit.  I did go though to find out what he thought I had done wrong and why he was questioning my integrity.  And if I did not agree with the answers, then I would quit.  If we could work it out, then I would stay.

Needless to say I did not agree with his answers.  And so, when he told me I had to make a decision in regards to continuing to carry on the conversation we were having and making things more difficult for me or to just shut up and just deal with it I made a decision that he did not expect.  I quit my job of 15 years on the spot. 

Now I have decided, for various reasons, to take up a new career in medical technology – specifically radiology.  Although it will pay about half of what I used to earn once I attain my degree (in a couple of years) it will be enough.  And it will provide me much more satisfying career than the one I had.    

I have completed my first semester at TCC (all A’s – hoozah!) and as I write this am getting ready to start my first summer semester. 

Dindy’s salary is large enough to keep us going, along with whatever I bring in from a part time job.  Our house still needs repair.  I have a car with about 120,000 miles on it.  We will not be taking any long, exotic vacations.  We will not be retiring early (although we will not have to work beyond attaining our social security either). 

I am though much more relaxed and happier now.  Dindy and my daughters find me to be more fun to be with than I was before.  My life is not centered around my work and how to deal with the problems therein – problems made worse by having the most difficult boss I have ever had in 40 years of working. 

Both Dindy and I account this trade off a total win for ourselves. 

It is interesting that we are told that we live in a materialistic society.  To a great extent that is true.  Further, one of the charges that is often leveled against atheists by believers is that we are materialists and value only the material things of the world. 

This is further evidence, if more is needed, that many theists really do not understand atheism at all.  Humans are humans whether atheist, theist, or pantheist.  We share the same needs and desires, many of the most important of which – personal connections and satisfaction – go far beyond just the material.

Dindy’s support for me is just one example of this truth.  And one that I am and will be forever grateful for.

Thank you Beautiful. 

 

When you Open the Door, You Must Let Them In September 17, 2009

Posted by Dindy in Church and State, Religion, Uncategorized.
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The Speaker of the House of the Pennsylvania Legislator, Keith McCall, has set up a controversy by denying Rev. Gerry Stoltzfoos, of the Freedom Valley Worship Center in Gettysburg, the right to say, “In Jesus name, Amen” at the end of his opening prayer.

I’m going to break with many Church State Separation advocates by stating here that if you invite someone to give a prayer, then it is bad form to regulate the subject of that prayer. If you invite a Christian to give a prayer, OF COURSE s/he is going to give a Christian prayer.

What I question is the practice of inviting people to give any type of prayer at the opening of a legislative session. Simply to do so is a violation of the separation of church and state. Sure, they can thrown their little bones to the “alternative” religions by inviting a Wiccan Priestess or a Medicine Man or some such, but in so doing, the practice of offering a prayer at the beginning of the meeting is shown to be little more than a hollow show of piety.

If members of the legislature are so concerned that their deity of choice guide their actions during the meeting, then let them bow their head or do whatever action required by their religion to bring the guidance of their deity upon their own actions. Bringing someone in to offer an invocation for the actions of the body as a whole is meaningless and ensures that no one is completely happy with whatever type of prayer is offered.