Thursday, March 04, 2010

I’m such a proud Mama. Not only do I have two awesome little boys who love to help me cook, clean, bake, and have a good time, but I also have 24 feather-babies who (apart from their nose-tickling fuzz molt) are growing up right before my eyes. Soon they’ll be moved outside to the coop, the chickens… not the boys, and they’ll be giving us yummy eggs. Hopefully at the end of the summer they’ll also have hatched out some of their own babies to give us a good meat supply for the winter. For now, I have moved them down to the basement. After three weeks, they were just losing too much fluff and making too much of a mess. I couldn’t stand it anymore. It’s really gross to see a thick layer of chicken dust all over my kitchen counters, toaster, cutting boards, and anything I happen to leave out. I’ve checked on them a few times today, and it looks like they’ll be fine down there. We always have extra heat lamps if it gets too cold for them. Aside from the moving babies, I’m also tending to a few hundred little green shoots in the basement. My little green babies. J The tomatoes seem to be doing okay down there. I had my reservations since the basement hovers around 55 degrees, but they are already getting their true leaves. The leeks dry out really fast, for some reason. We don’t have the dehumidifier going anymore, so I don’t know what their problem is.

My husband’s worms seem to tolerate the basement, too. He said the last time he looked at them there were a lot more than what we started with. They aren’t eating much now – a banana here, a moldy squash there. Hopefully by this summer they’ll be numerous enough that we can actually get some good compost out of them. It won’t hurt to be able to harvest some of the worms now and then to feed the biddies, either. It makes me giggle to think of all of the goodies we have stashed down there now: chickens, plants, worms, and an enormous stack of canning jars and supplies that just keeps growing.

Four months ago, if I had been asked where I would be and what I would be doing next summer, I would have probably answered something like this, “Living in this same cramped apartment with a few small potted tomatoes, dreaming of being free.” Funny how life works sometimes. We’ve been here almost two months, and already we are well on our way to living the dream.

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Monday, March 15, 2010

I’ve been catching up on some of my reading lately, going over books I haven’t read in a long time and dusting off the ones that had never seen the light of day. A good number of the books are in pdf format on my computer. They are books that can be downloaded free at any number of locations on the internet either because the copyright has expired or because the author has sanctioned it. One such book, probably one of the shortest in my collection, is by Sam Harris. It is called “Letter to a Christian Nation.” In it, he addresses the Christians of the US, be they liberal, moderate, or conservative, and challenges them to think reasonably about their faith. I think it is a very well-written, compelling piece that people of any and all faiths should read. Of course, Sam Harris himself has been blacklisted by many churches and religious groups, but anyone who is devout and unwavering in their religion should have nothing to fear by examining this work of heresy… right? Be that as it may, I expect there are many Christians out there who have been brainwashed or who have deluded themselves to the point where challenges like this from non-believers hardly register. Why bother with someone you inherently know is false? Well, maybe you should try to break out every now and then. People like you once thought the earth was flat, that maggots spawned from thin air, and that magic was real. Sometimes it pays to contemplate a different point of view.

The first chapter, which I will post just below, is the perfect hook. I have tried this many times with Christians, but for some reason many are immune to it at first. The premise is that there are many different systems of belief, and even subsystems. Most claim that their way is the right way, and that to follow another way will only lead one to some fiery doom. So how do you know that your way is the right way? If you were born into a family who followed the Hindu belief system or an isolated indigenous family who practiced some form of voodoo, then you would most likely believe just as strongly in those other principals. It’s really scary that so many people believe what they do not because they have thoroughly researched and questioned every aspect of what they have learned, but because it is the belief system of their family, of their ancestors. Because as far back as they can remember, this has been the way they have been taught, and with that teaching came the admonition that to question the authority of this system is shameful and fraught with danger both mental and physical.

I have a lot to say on this subject, but I think the professional authors are much more eloquent and descriptive than I, so I will let them have the floor. Here is the first chapter of Sam Harris’ “Letter to a Christian Nation.”

You believe that the Bible is the word of God, that Jesus is the Son of God, and that only those who place their faith in Jesus will find salvation after death. As a Christian, you believe these propositions not because they make you feel good, but because you think they are true. Before I point out some of the problems with these beliefs, I would like to acknowledge that there are many points on which you and I agree. We agree, for instance, that if one of us is right, the other is wrong. The Bible is either the word of God, or it isn’t. Either Jesus offers humanity the one, true path to salvation (John 14:6), or he does not. We agree that to be a true Christian is to believe that all other faiths are mistaken, and profoundly so. If Christianity is correct, and I persist in my unbelief, I should expect to suffer the torments of hell.

Worse still, I have persuaded others, and many close to me, to reject the very idea of God. They too will languish in “eternal fire” (Matthew 25:41). If the basic doctrine of Christianity is correct, I have misused my life in the worst conceivable way. I admit this without a single caveat. The fact that my continuous and public rejection of Christianity does not worry me in the least should suggest to you just how inadequate I think your reasons for being a Christian are.

Of course, there are Christians who do not agree with either of us. There are Christians who consider other faiths to be equally valid paths to salvation. There are Christians who have no fear of hell and who do not believe in the physical resurrection of Jesus. These Christians often describe themselves as “religious liberals” or “religious moderates.” From their point of view, you and I have both misunderstood what it means to be a person of faith. There is, we are assured, a vast and beautiful terrain between atheism and religious fundamentalism that generations of thoughtful Christians have quietly explored. According to liberals and moderates, faith is about mystery, and meaning, and community, and love. People make religion out of the full fabric of their lives, not out of mere beliefs.

I have written elsewhere about the problems I see with religious liberalism and religious moderation. Here, we need only observe that the issue is both simpler and more urgent than liberals and moderates generally admit. Either the Bible is just an ordinary book, written by mortals, or it isn’t. Either Christ was divine, or he was not. If the Bible is an ordinary book, and Christ an ordinary man, the basic doctrine of Christianity is false. If the Bible is an ordinary book, and Christ an ordinary man, the history of Christian theology is the story of bookish men parsing a collective delusion. If the basic tenets of Christianity are true, then there are some very grim surprises in store for nonbelievers like myself. You understand this. At least half of the American population understands this. So let us be honest with ourselves: in the fullness of time, one side is really going to win this argument, and the other side is really going to lose.

Consider: every devout Muslim has the same reasons for being a Muslim that you have for being a Christian. And yet you do not find their reasons compelling. The Koran repeatedly declares that it is the perfect word of the creator of the universe. Muslims believe this as fully as you believe the Bible’s account of itself. There is a vast literature describing the life of Muhammad that, from the point of view of Islam, proves that he was the most recent Prophet of God. Muhammad also assured his followers that Jesus was not divine (Koran 5:71-75; 19:30-38) and that anyone who believes otherwise will spend eternity in hell. Muslims are certain that Muhammad’s opinion on this subject, as on all others, is infallible.

Why don’t you lose any sleep over whether to convert to Islam? Can you prove that Allah is not the one, true God? Can you prove that the archangel Gabriel did not visit Muhammad in his cave? Of course not. But you need not prove any of these things to reject the beliefs of Muslims as absurd. The burden is upon them to prove that their beliefs about God and Muhammad are valid. They have not done this. They cannot do this. Muslims are simply not making claims about reality that can be corroborated. This is perfectly apparent to anyone who has not anesthetized himself with the dogma of Islam.

The truth is, you know exactly what it is like to be an atheist with respect to the beliefs of Muslims. Isn’t it obvious that Muslims are fooling themselves? Isn’t it obvious that anyone who thinks that the Koran is the perfect word of the creator of the universe has not read the book critically? Isn’t it obvious that the doctrine of Islam represents a near perfect barrier to honest inquiry? Yes, these things are obvious. Understand that the way you view Islam is precisely the way devout Muslims view Christianity. And it is the way I view all religions.

Isn’t it obvious? One would assume so, but we all know that assuming things only makes an ass of u and me. I am by no means a “militant” atheist, although I admire those who are. I would love to be able to spout well thought-out arguments, to debate with theologians, and to grapple with competing religious dogma every day. Unfortunately, I am just an isolated housewife with no community standing and a bit of a temper. I am very passionate about my disbelief, and my emotions tend to overwhelm me when I am faced with the absurdity that is religion. So instead of trying to sort out what I want to communicate into an eloquent blog, I quote someone who says it so much better than I ever could.

If you are interested in reading this book, I would advise you to either perform a quick google search of the title, or go to your local library. I’m sure you could get a copy of it through interlibrary loan, if anything. It’s worth a read. And even if it doesn’t sway you in your beliefs, at least it will let you have a brief glimpse of the inner workings of the mind of a true atheist.

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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The chickens have been out in the coop since Friday night, and they seem to be doing well. We have a heat lamp hanging a couple feet above the floor, but they don’t spend much time under it. The only time I’ve seen them huddled under it was when I checked on them around 10pm one night. They were all sleeping. Usually when we visit them they are spread all over the coop, scratching the straw and chasing each other around. They are getting used to our presence, which is wonderful. I’ve been trying to go out twice a day for at least 10 minutes at a time to check on them and visit with them. It’s to the point now that when I start to open the door, instead of cackling in horror and fleeing to the other side of the coop, they all come running up to greet me. The boys love going out there with me. There’s a comfy straw bale for us to sit on, although my oldest prefers sitting right on the floor so the chicks hop all over him. They even get to help me feed the chicks. While I scoop out big scoops to fill up the feeder, they take handfuls and spread them out as scratch for the chicks. Our youngest boy doesn’t talk yet, but he points at things he is excited about. He’s constantly pointing at the chicks as they drink water, peck at my boots, try to fly, and squat to poop. It doesn’t take much to amuse him.

The weather has been very nice here lately. It has hovered in the 40’s and 50’s. Just about all of the snow in the yards and fields is gone, and many of the puddles that had formed are almost done soaking into the ground. I don’t think it will be too long before we see tractors in the fields. Speaking of which, I finally got to meet one of our neighbors. He’s a nice old gentleman who lives alone on a large acreage that he still farms. We didn’t talk much, but he did indicate that he would be interested in plowing our fields for us. Yay! One obstacle down for the spring. We chatted about gardening a bit, and he informed me that all of our neighbors have big gardens every summer. How big? Well, he alone plants at least 120 tomato plants every year. Wowza! I guess our 60 or so plants aren’t going to be a lot after all. That was really fun to hear, because I love to talk with people about gardening, and I’m sure I’ll be hitting the neighbors up for advice more than once this summer. With big gardens comes food preservation and sales, as well. It’d be great to learn some new recipes and places to sell excess produce.

Have I mentioned how happy I am to be living in the country? I finally am starting to feel like I finally belong somewhere. I’ve always felt like odd man out for some reason, but being out here is just different. Even though I don’t know many people around us yet, I know I’ll fit in just fine. Country folk are my folk. I’m sure by this time next year I’ll be organizing Sunday brunches and swapping seeds with everyone in a mile radius.

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