Saturday, September 1, 2012

Coming out of the closet

While this blog has been predominantly aimed at documenting our adventures while living overseas, there has been an occasion to share more intimate stories. One of the stories I feel compelled to share is that of our family's experience with religion while here. I feel confident that my parents will not be too happy with this post, but look at it this way, Mom and Dad: you raised an independent thinker!

I was raised in the Baptist and Methodist churches until I left home to go to university. From that point on, I had little to no religion in my life. I was surrounded by very religious people even after I left home however (I was in Texas after all!). I never understood Christianity. I never understood the believing in it. All I saw were the reasons and science to not just question it, but to understand that what I had been raised to believe in simply couldn't possibly be. I felt very much like this was my secret and (for lack of a better pun) my cross to silently bear.

After I met Scott, I felt better that I wasn't alone. He was/is one of the nicest, most honest, most caring people I have ever known. And all that without religion. Don't get me wrong here, some of my friends and even a very select few of my family had given up on this biblical religion. Even then, it wasn't something we really talked about. We kept up and continue to keep up the good front: Scott and I were married by a Methodist preacher out at the ranch (in possibly the most fun wedding ever!). A prayer was said at the wedding. When we go to funerals and weddings, we of course do the "Our Father who art in Heaven" chant. We participate as sincerely and genuinely as anyone else in the room.

In Texas, Caden attends a Catholic all boys school. It is perhaps one of the best schools in the world. It is a fantastic place for him to learn and to be exposed, yes, to religion. We want our kids to have the option of religion. Part of me wants this so that they have commonality with the many people they will be surrounded with. Part of me wants it so they can experience the good and the bad of those who are "religious" and those who aren't religious. But mostly, I want them to make their own choice.

The thing that living abroad has afforded me is the understanding that this non-belief isn't a bad thing. In fact, living away from the USA, I now understand that the religious movement where we lived in the USA is extreme. I don't mean extreme, as in extremists killing, etc. I mean, extreme in the sense of it being pervasive in everything. If I open Facebook, at least half of the posts will be scripture or variations of scripture. That simply isn't the case here in the UK or in Holland. Most of the people here are open and will tell you without hesitation that they are atheist. (I showed one of my coworkers my FB page one morning on a field visit. He was shocked and said, "If a friend of mine posted anything like that on FB, he would be either joking, or asking for being mocked by everyone else. Either way, he would never do it again!") There certainly isn't a feeling of exclusion because of atheism.

Living here, I have been exposed to more people "like me", come to learn a great deal about Hinduism from my coworkers, and seen the acceptance of people of all religions, as well as no religions. No one looks twice here at a man with a turban on, or a woman with a burqu on. I have come to appreciate this. And, well, I do have a sense of dread going back to a place where you aren't equal if you aren't Christian.

The recent election coverage has made this religious movement even more pervasive than it previously was, to me at least. Now I find that people are actually going to make their decision on a candidate who appears more Christian than another. In fact, one side accuses the other side of being Muslim to further ostricize him from the very religious voters (all the while knowing that he is in fact a Christian... not that it should matter). I find postings daily on FB that they will vote for a candidate because he has "God in his corner" or that we need a "more Godly" man as President. This is so disturbing to me. It suggests that if they aren't religious enough, they aren't good enough. Ridiculous.

What I have found in this journey is that many people who don't believe are often more caring, honest, and generally moral than many of those who consider themselves very religious. (I would say that religion belongs on its own spectrum from morality. They are simply not related. At least not in practice.) Religion doesn't make you a better person. In fact, religion seems to be a crutch for many (not all) to fall back on as they go on to knowingly do things that are clearly not right to do. (The recent speech by the newest VP candidate was a great example of this where he literally presented lies (not twisting the truth, but blatantly lying) about events that had been proven false time and time again in order to get his crowd fired up. How does religion approve of that? How do the truly religious approve of this? I am confused by it because the very religious are the ones supporting this.)

So, I guess the whole point of this post is for me to come out of the closet on religion. I expect I will have some "defriend" me on FB, some may even offer prayers for me, some will politely smile at me next time we meet yet think of me differently. All that's fine. It's fine by me if you choose to believe in God or the Bible. If you are Mormon, Hindu, Catholic, or even a Scientologist, that's great. Believe. Have faith. But don't expect others to just because you do. Don't consider yourself better or more moral. You're not. Religion doesn't make you a good person. Morals do. A person can be moral without being religious.

And as a last note on here, a special thanks to my cousin EJ who shared a Thomas Jefferson quote with me this morning:
"Question with boldness even the existence of God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason than that of blindfolded fear."

A busy week at Center Parks

While we have been quite busy exploring this year, we haven't taken off more than a day or two at a time of holiday since February (I took off four days to go to Lanzarote with the fam). So we went all out and took off another four days and strategically scheduled a week away around a bank holiday weekend.

The kids had been dying to go to Center Parcs. Center Parks (or as the Brits would say: Centre Parcs) is a giant park where there are more activities to choose from than anyone would ever possibly have time to do. When you arrive, you park your vehicle at the front and the remainder of the time to move around the camp, you must walk, bike or take the land train. Let me summarize by saying we had a blast, even though it rained for four of the five days we were there.

We lost a half day due to a eye issue with Caden where we had to take him to the doctor, but aside from that, we were extremely busy having fun. Activities including: swimming in the sub-tropical swimming paradise (paradise is an understatement), cross-bow practice for the kids, rock wall climbing, playing in the woods, biking, fishing, playing on the sandy beach, chef school for the kids, and (possibly the favorite amongst the little people) wizard and fairy university. And just for clarification, the fishing really should've been called catching. The kids caught more fish by running the net through the water than using the fishing pole and bait! The squeals of delight made it extremely fun...

The video highlights:

Honorable mention: