The ‘growing threat’ of secularism

Last week, I came across this article on Salon: The growing trend that’s got the religious right thoroughly rattled, in which author Amanda Marcotte describes the growing trend of secularlism in America, and how it’s freaking religious Republicans out.

Forgive me for getting a little political/introspective here, but this is a topic that I dwell on often. Religion has always been a difficult issue for me to swallow, and while I respect all of my religious friends, I grow frustrated reading what comes out of some of their mouths on Facebook.

I loved this article for many reasons, the primary being that it’s been a long time since I read something that touched directly on why I’ve moved away from religion and organized faith over the years.

 As the word “religious” increasingly gets coupled with an image of intolerance and hatred, more and more people, regardless of their belief in God, are downscaling the impact religion has on their lives , or in the case with the “nones”, giving up the idea of religion altogether.

Marcotte also makes an interesting point regarding the recent Hobby Lobby decision in the Supreme Court: as more Americans move toward a secular way of life, evangelical Christians have become more and more strident about their “rights” – namely, their “right” to impose their beliefs on others. The Hobby Lobby decision illustrates this, as does the annoying “war on Christmas” that emerges each year – LIBERALS are threatening MY RIGHT to plant a manger scene on the front lawn of City Hall! (Even though, you know, our government isn’t technically supposed to be “Christian”, or any religion for that matter.)

But as Christians become louder and more extremist in this fight, the more it drives people away – people like me. The article points out that much of what we see the religious right campaigning for in this country is centered around anti-choice legislation for women, and preventing gay people from getting married.

I’m sorry, but I’m proudly pro-choice and pro-gay marriage. For me, and for a lot of young people not burdened by the prejudices of the past, if that means that my beliefs leave no room for me in organized “Christianity”, well then I guess that’s OK. That doesn’t mean that I can’t hold certain faith-based beliefs, and it doesn’t mean that I can’t live a life devoted to being, and doing, good. If that’s called secularism, well then, why is secularism such a bad thing?

I knew I wasn’t crazy for not owning a smartphone

Well, first let me start with a disclaimer: I’m hoping that this month, I will be – again – the owner of an iPhone. A used iPhone. My husband’s old iPhone, to be specific. But yes, I will soon be re-joining the world of the perpetually plugged in.

However, in April, when I left my old job, I lost my iPhone and was left to use my not-so-smart LG, slide-y phone with full-keyboard, what-year-is-this-2005? …. phone. I knew it was temporary, but at the time, it made sense. I was leaving a job with the intention of going back to school and working part-time. I wasn’t going to have a lot of money, thus, it made no sense to buy yet another iPhone and shoulder an additional $30 a month in data costs.

And we did save money. What else did I save? A little bit of my sanity. You see, when I was working as an editor/reporter, I was addicted to my stupid iPhone. Like all the mindless minions out there, I checked it constantly.  I was always on Facebook/Twitter/Foursquare. I downloaded apps. I guess I wasn’t as bad as some – I never played games, and my app list was relatively short. And I can honestly say I never did anything that could remotely be considered “snap-chatting”.

But that phone had a fatal flaw that nearly killed me: it connected me to email. And at the time, my inbox received close to 50-75 messages a day. I was obsessed with staying on top of that inbox, and thus checked messages again, and again, and again. My boss expected it, my co-workers did it, and so why shouldn’t I reach for my phone first thing in the morning and prepare myself for an instant dose of stress not even one minute after opening my eyes.

After awhile, I had to instill some rules regarding the iPhone, but it wasn’t until I left that job that my sanity began to return. Leaving that job was, in total, a huge weight off my shoulders, but sending back that iPhone was somehow the best part. Goodbye constant communication! Goodbye working 24/7! Goodbye headaches! Goodbye stress!

Since the spring, the difficulties of being mute in the constantly chattering smartphone world have been few and far between. Sometimes, it really would be nice to have a GPS. And yeah, it helps kill those minutes when you arrive an annoying 5-10 minutes early somewhere. And OK, the jokes and blank stares when I mention I don’t have a smartphone are starting to get irritating.

But at the same time, it’s been very freeing, and after working a stressful job for two-and-a-half years, relaxing. After staring at glowing screens for years, I’m forced to look around me when I’m out and about. I notice things when I walk somewhere. When I have free moments, instead of checking Facebook for stupid updates I didn’t need to worry about anyway, I stare off into space. I daydream. I read the book I always keep in my purse. I think. I watch people.

And while the GPS is convenient, sometimes getting lost isn’t a bad thing – in fact, I might argue it’s a pleasure we’ve largely abandoned in recent years. Getting lost forces you to discover new things and learn how to find your way, using only the markers found in our physical world. It also requires you to learn how to navigate and take directions.

And believe me, I’ve never missed throwing away hours of my life playing Words With Friends.

All this being said, I found this article on Salon fascinating: Smartphone are killing us – and destroying public life.

A deft user can digitally enhance her experience of the city. She can study a map; discover an out-of-the-way restaurant; identify the trees that line the block and the architect who designed the building at the corner. She can photograph that building, share it with friends, and in doing so contribute her observations to a digital community. On her way to the bus (knowing just when it will arrive) she can report the existence of a pothole and check a local news blog.

It would be unfair to say this person isn’t engaged in the city; on the contrary, she may be more finely attuned to neighborhood history and happenings than her companions. But her awareness is secondhand: She misses the quirks and cues of the sidewalk ballet, fails to make eye contact, and limits her perception to a claustrophobic one-fifth of normal. Engrossed in the virtual, she really isn’t here with the rest of us.

When I do eventually return to the world of intelligent phone ownership, I will appreciate the convenience of accessing the Internet in the palm of my hand. Instagram will be a friendly face I’ll be glad to see again. And yes, I will probably Tweet more because, let’s face it, tweeting from your computer is kind of lame. But never again will I be one of those people – the ones who aren’t able to see the rest of the world beyond the confines of their tiny screens.

Coming of Age With Osama Bin Laden

I don’t usually share things here I write for work, but in light of Osama bin Laden’s death Sunday night, a few other young editors and I put together a collaborative essay on what it’s meant to grow up, and really come of age, in the aftermath of September 11, and it’s received some great traction since we posted it this morning. I tend to abstain from sentimentalism, but I think bin Laden’s death represents a good opportunity for reflection on the past 10 years (I know, can you believe it’s been that long?).

Personally, I’ve always felt that 9/11 represented some kind of turning point in my life. It wasn’t that I became obsessed with all the hoopla; in 2007, I wrote a contentious column for my college newspaper dismissing the holiday-like treatment of the date’s anniversary. However, looking back now, I realize how so much of my high school and college years were defined by the events of 9/11, whether that be two wars, Saddam Hussein, bin Laden, hating Bush, loving Obama and the new definition of terrorism.

Now, 10 years later, the architect of the event that started it all is dead. While I don’t feel that my generation is akin to those who came of age during times of civil unrest, such as during the Vietnam War, I do feel there’s something there. Something different. Something lacking. Perhaps you’ll agree.

Growing Up with bin Laden: Patch Editors Reflect on Past 10 Years

From my essay:

I was 14 on Sept. 11, 2001, just a few weeks into my freshman year of high school. I was busy trying to untangle what it meant to be an official high school student, not to mention dealing with the perpetual awkwardness of being 14, soon to be 15. It was a Tuesday. I was on my way to second period French. Someone made a crack about a plane flying into the White House. I thought it was a joke.

Fox News attacks the National Endowment for the Humanities

I’ll throw this one over to my friend at The Occasional for reporting on this nasty tidbit, but after reading about it through another friend’s Twitter feed, I couldn’t help but mention it myself.

It seems that in the *search for wasteful taxes*, Fox News and the American Taxpayer’s Union have banded together to attack the National Endowment for the Humanities, claiming the small amount of cash the national government throws its way each year is a burden on American taxpayers.  They mention month-long “vacations” to exotic locales, where college professors sight-see on the taxpayer’s dime.  Fox News correspondent William La Jeunesse mocks  money spent in the Rediscovering Afghanistan initiative, in which scholars are working to study and preserve the history of the region–a task in which we are already far behind, considering our military presence there.  Some of the projects he points out may seem ridiculous, but all contribute to expanding the field of scholarship and educating American students.

If you don’t believe me, watch the video yourself.

Now, if the idiots over at Fox News would had majored in anything other than business or political science when they were in college, they might realize that funding for the humanities has been going down the toilet for years.  Deficits in university budgets has moved administrators to shift funding away from the humanities, funneling it instead into “glamorous” departments that will yield them a bigger crop of wealthy alumni.  I’m not saying science or technology doesn’t deserve that money either, but it’s clear that university administrators already devalue the worth of an education in the humanities, and public perception isn’t far behind.  Considering that a majority of the public chose to opt out of their college English classes, it’s no surprise very few understand the worth of studying Shakespeare or poetry.

Andrew Hazlett at The Occasional also makes a good point.

Teachers are woefully unprepared, universities are cutting back on the liberal arts and humanities, momentarily fashionable theories burn through academic departments with the speed of clothing trends, media are in the midst of revolution, museums and libraries are struggling against long financial odds and changing audiences… in all this chaos, the (comparatively) modest grants made by the NEH are a conservation tool.  They sustain the quiet, essential work of scholarship and teaching on life’s biggest questions.

Like I said, I was an English major but other humanities departments deserve the self-same respect.  For Fox News to pick on the National Endowment for the Humanities (who, by the way, receive a TINY sliver of government funding…”decimal dust” a congressional staffer called it) reveals the lows they’re willing to reach for rating.  “Hey, the ‘everyman’ surely doesn’t understand Shakespeare. Let’s get them morally outraged at liberal professors spending thousands of dollars studying that worthless hack! It’s not really news, but surely it will appeal to our conservative base.”  Give me a break.

Angry thoughts about the Nobel Peace Prize “debate”

I previewed this post a bit earlier, so here we go: how I feel about the whole “debate” over President Barack Obama receiving the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize.

When I first heard the news, I didn’t expect this level of controversy.  A good friend from college (and another die-hard Democrat and Obama supporter) sent me a text message with the good news early this morning, and while I was pleasantly surprised, I didn’t think much about the issue.  I didn’t know why Obama received the award, exactly, but considering his work reaching out the international community, it made sense.

Then, I fully woke up and turned on my computer.  Now, I have a few thoughts concerning all the criticism leveraged against the decision and the president.  First of all, Obama is the first sitting US president to receive the award since Woodrow Wilson in 1919.  The only other American presidents to receive a Nobel Peace Prize has been Theodore Roosevelt and Jimmy Carter.  Before today, there was a general consensus that the Nobel Peace Prize is highly respected and to receieve it is generally considered an honor worldwide.  The award goes to those who have worked to promote peace and understanding across the globe, and who are recognized for inspiring citizens of all nations. Suffice it to say, these aren’t the bad guys.

To dislike President Obama for his politics is understandable:  it’s politics as usual in this country.  But you know, I can deal with Republicans pissed off over healthcare or the war in Afghanistan.  What angers me is the way politics has superseded all notions of decency and common sense.  It doesn’t matter which issue is at hand; the goal of both  Republicans and Democrats is to tear down the opposing party in the hopes of making themselves look better for the next election.  Why can’t we pass decent healthcare reform?  Because Jim DeMint has admitted that Republicans  will block any progress in the hopes that it will “break” the president.  When Obama’s attempt to woo the Olympic committee to Chicago failed, Republicans were actually HAPPY about it because it made Obama look bad.  Republicans were cheering AGAINST their own country in the Olympic bid, for the sake of politics.

And now this.  The fact a sitting American president received the Nobel Peace Prize is a great honor, not only for Obama but for this country.  It’s a sign that the international community once again reveres us as a major player in world diplomacy.  Our presence and opinion is respected once again.  We are no longer warmongers, but peacemakers.  We are welcomed at the bargaining table, instead of scorned.  True, Obama has barely been in office a full year.  But he has been working toward changing the tone of American diplomacy for far longer.  He built his campaign around it, and his autobiography has inspired millions across the globe.  His diplomacy consists of rational discourse, not chauvinistic bullying.  He has reached out to those painted as this country’s “enemy,” and changed the way the world sees America and its diplomatic missions.

But Republicans can’t leave this alone.  Still bitter over the man’s popularity, they have continued blindly in their quest to tear the man down, whatever it takes.  And if that means framing a “peace” prize as a bad thing, then so be it.  They have capitalized on America’s innate xenophobia–after 8 years of Bush, we’re uncomfortable with our President’s international popularity–and are using that selfish mentality to marr what should be a momentous day for this nation.  As in politics, they don’t care about the good of the nation.  Republicans just despise the fact that their political opponent is being recognized for his achievements, even if they’re well-deserved.  To take this away from President Obama would be selfish and entirely innappropriate, and history won’t look too fondly on his harshest critics (“I didn’t know there was an affirmative action quota with the award”).  To put petty, partisan politics ahead of national interests is a disgusting game that’s gone too far.  For shame.