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We are all atheists about most of the gods that societies have ever believed in.  Some of us just go one god further.  ~Richard Dawkns



Fundamentalist what?   Yeah, you read that right.  I consider myself a fundamentalist atheist and this blog entry is part explanation of what that means and part rant about how believers misuse the words atheist and atheism.

Recently, I have been involved in yet another annoying conversation about what it means to be an atheist on a forum I frequent at Delphi Forums. It is annoying because some of the theists, aka believers in gods and goddesses, and one annoying agnostic participating in the discussion about religion are determined to claim the right to define what I and the other atheists on the forum believe about their (the believers’) gods and why. It is annoying because when those of us who ARE atheists speak up and disagree with their assessment of atheists and atheism we are dismissed as if what we think about ourselves and our beliefs is irrelevant. 

Let me preface the rest of this post by saying I have been an atheist for over 25 years. This is not a position I took easily nor one I continue to take lightly. Suffice it to say that the road that led to my disbelief was difficult and emotionally draining.

My lack of belief in gods and goddesses may be the most definitive aspect of my persona because it effects every other aspect of my life to one degree or another. My lack of belief in the Christian god in particular colors my thoughts about my roles as a human being, a citizen of Wisconsin and the USA in general, a woman, mother, writer, political junkie, etc., etc. It is annoying as all get out to be told that I MUST believe ABC to claim the distinction of atheism by people who are determined to portray atheists and atheism in the worst possible light.

One of the most egregious claims by believers is that ALL atheists, by default, positively deny the possibility of the existence of gods or goddesses and claim to know without a doubt that NO higher power or supreme being exists in the universe. This leads to the next ridiculous claim that an atheist’s beliefs requires just as much faith as a theist. These theists (and one extremely annoying agnostic)  often go one step further and claim that atheism is just as much of a religion as any Christian sect or denomination such as Catholicism or Southern Baptist or religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, or Islam.

All of these claims are absolutely untrue. There is only one criteria to be an atheist. That is a lack of belief in gods and goddesses.  Let me say that again.  The only thing all atheists have in common is a lack of belief in gods and goddesses and that is basic or what I call fundamentalist atheism.  Why fundamentalist?  Because a simple lack of belief is fundamentally what makes an atheist an atheist regardless of any other position they take on gods and goddesses.

Lack of belief does not equal the complete denial of the possibilities that could be true. Gods and goddesses could exist. They might even actually exist. I know quite a few atheists online and offline. Very, very few of them actually claim that they do not believe that gods or goddesses could or even might possibly exist. I certainly don’t.

However without knowledge that they do, atheists such as myself simply cannot believe they do.  For us, belief requires knowledge that is based on verifiable, objective, empirical evidence–material things that we can experience directly through our five senses (sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell). The preponderance of a lack of such evidence for any of the gods and goddesses posited to date certainly makes me skeptical that any exist but there is no evidence that would cause me to know that none exist and substantiate a claim that they do not.   So I don’t make such a claim.

It is true that some atheists will positively state that gods do not and cannot exist but they are few and far between.  Theists who claim that atheists who completely deny the possibility that gods and goddesses exist are correct when they say that that position takes just as much faith on the atheist’s part as their own belief.  Since faith is belief without evidence, any atheist who states uncategorically that there is no god is basing his or her beliefs on faith (belief without evidence). However, since the vast majority of atheists do not take this position, theists are being disingenuous in applying such criteria to all atheists or they just don’t understand what atheism really is.

As for the assertion that atheism is just as much a religion as any other theological belief, that is just plain bunk. To quote Penn Gillette, one of my favorite atheistic celebrities, “Atheism is a religion like NOT collecting stamps is a hobby.” Aside from our lack of belief in gods and goddesses categorizing atheists into neat little boxes based on our beliefs is like herding cats. We have no creed or dogma that all atheists must subscribe to in order to qualify as an atheist aside from that simple fundamental lack of belief.  There is no umbrella organization that all atheists could or would join that would represent our lack of belief.

Part of the confusion and the cause of these misconceptions is that the people who do believe in a god(s) or goddess(es) and make these claims can pull out a dictionary (or several) and point to the definition of atheism found in it. For example:

 

Onelook Dictionary atheism

 

 

noun

the belief or theory that God does not exist

more…


Provided by Macmillan Dictionary


 

Quick definitions from WordNet (atheism)


noun:  a lack of belief in the existence of God or gods
noun:  the doctrine or belief that there is no God

 

Theists who want to argue that atheism is a religion requiring faith  will completely ignore the “lack of belief” definition if that is even included in the dictionary they consult and focus on the belief, theory, and doctrine parts of the definitions. Unfortunately, while I am very fond of dictionaries, I have to make the assertion that the popular desk dictionaries on the market and online can be and often are wrong. They are good guidelines for understanding the way language is used by a social group or culture but they are not the end all and be all of definitions.

You’ll notice that the Onelook website has links to 47 dictionaries that define atheism. Most of them will contain very similar definitions of the word atheism or atheist. Very few pay attention to the etymology of the word or the way in which atheists define themselves which is where the truth about what being an atheist means is to be found.

Cheap modern desk dictionaries record the popular usage of words and since the majority of the populous tends to be theistic, atheism is defined on their terms and not by atheists themselves. Unfortunately a really good dictionary like The Unabridged Oxford English Dictionary is terribly expensive even online. You would probably be able to find an unabridged dictionary at your local library (my local library will look a word up for you if you call the reference desk) but very few people have ready access to one. Luckily for me, for the purposes of this essay Austin Cline includes the definition from The Oxford Dictionary on his About.com website.

 

Oxford English Dictionary

atheism: (from Greek atheos, “without God, denying God”) Disbelief in, or denial of, the existence of a God. Also, Disregard of duty to God, godlessness (practical atheism).

First the etymology of the word is very plain. It stems from the Greek theos or the feminine thea which simply means gods or goddesses(Thea was one of the Titanic Greek Gods, mother of the dawn, Eos, the sun, Helios and the moon, Selene. Reference:Theoi Greek Mythology) Being a theist means to believe in the gods and goddesses. According to Robertson’s Words for a Modern Age,  adding the prefix “a” to make the word atheism simply changes the meaning to without belief in gods or goddesses: (a=without + theos = gods). Atheism is simply a lack of theism much as asymmetrical means a lack of symmetry.

More importantly, the way atheists define and describe themselves should be given primary consideration. They are, after all, the ones who have come to the conclusion that they cannot believe in gods and goddesses. Netizen_J, a self-described atheist who also posts at the same Delphi Forum  I do, eloquently puts it this way:

 

Failing to believe that a deity exists is NOT the same thing as believing that no deities exist. KNOWING that there is a paucity of actual evidence FOR any deity is not the same as a BELIEF that no deities could possibly exist.

 Atheism is a religion like bald is a hair color.

 

Austin Cline, a philosopher who writes for About.com,  has published an entire series of articles dealing with the definition of atheism and the myths about atheism that exist versus the way atheists define themselves. His personal definiton of atheism can be found in his FAQ.  Cline includes a couple of pages of definitions of atheism by more prominent atheists on About.com’s  website. My favorite is from Dan Barker’s book, Losing Faith in Faith: From Preacher to Atheist:

 

It turns out that the word atheism means much less than I had thought. It is merely the lack of theism […] Basic atheism is not a belief. It is the lack of belief. There is a difference between believing there is no god and not believing there is a god — both are atheistic, though popular usage has ignored the latter […].


 

Absence of belief (fundamental atheism) requires no faith because it leaves the question of whether or not gods and goddesses exist open. There is no positive denial that gods and goddesses cannot exist. Just a simple assertion that the atheist lacks the belief any gods or goddesses do. The reasons for that lack of belief are about as varied as the Christian sects and denominations that exist but generally it includes the fact that there is no verifiable, objective, empirical evidence for gods and goddesses. There is no dogma, philosophy or creed connected to the absence of belief that every atheist must subscribe to.  There is no umbrella organization an atheist could join even if they wanted to that requires any adherance to a set of principles or guidelines to be a member so it does not qualify as a religion.

What do I mean when I say I am an fundamentalist atheist? Very simply, I lack belief in any of the gods and goddesses that have been posited to date because there is no verifiable, objective, empirical evidence that any of them do exist. That is the fundamental criteria for atheism, in my opinion. It is the only thing that all atheists will agree on.

I’m not wedded to atheism—should someone actually provide such evidence I would happily change my stance and become a believer/theist again. Most atheists would. Do you have any?

 

 

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bl_unite-sept27banner.jpg

href=”“>Bless the beasts and the children
The Carpenters

There are so many ways we can abuse so much in this world. We can even abuse the planet itself as Al Gore has pointed out in his Academy Award winning documentary An Inconvenient Truth. I am not a Christian, I have made that very clear on several occasions in my Blogs but I believe the myths human beings tell to explain their occupation of this planet are powerful. The Christian creation story has a compelling message that I think that Christians and non-Christians alike can take a valuable lesson from regarding our role as stewards of this planet and its inhabitants.

I am going to use the King James 1611 Bible because I love the majesty of the Elizabethan Language. I don’t think it makes much difference which translation you use. This part of the story of “In the beginning…” is pretty clear.

1:27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. 1:28 And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.1:29 And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat. 1:30 And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for meat: and it was so. 1:31 And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day. 2:1 Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. 2:2 And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made.

This story is centuries old. It was almost certainly passed along as an oral tradition long before it was ever written down and there were many versions before it was recorded in this beautiful 16th century iambic pentameter. The main point that I want to dwell on here is that HUMANS have DOMINION over everything else in the world.

Dominion. That’s a strong word to use. We were to dominate or rule over all the animals and all of the fishes in the sea and the fowl that flies and all the creepy crawly things too.. We have complete charge of everything else in the world. The creator god gave it all to us. If you believe in this creator God I don’t see how you can fail to believe that you have been commanded by God to take care of his creation.

If you are a disbeliever perhaps you could take a moment to reflect that these supposedly primitive people back in the dark recesses of time recognized that it was OUR duty to take care of this planet. They believed that an almighty force, a supernatural being they believed to be the creator of everything around them, gave THEM the power to rule over everything. They recognized their status as the beasts highest on the food chain and understood the moral responsibility that that implied. Can we do any less?

Taking care of this planet and ALL OF ITS INHABITANTS, right down to the most seemingly insignificant species of fly in the muckiest marsh in the backwoods of nowhereville is essential to our own well being. This is it, folks, this is all we’ve got. This planet and its inhabitants depend on us to be good stewards. WE MUST STOP THE ABUSE!

Each of us can stop the abuse by choosing our own particular interest and taking a proactive part in being good stewards. Humananity has been thoughtless and cruel for far too long. There are many, many causes that need to be taken up and battles that need to be fought. You might find the destruction of our rain forests to be particularly reprehensible or you might have issues with substance abuse in your life or you might want to take up the cause of making sure that everyone spays and neuters their pets. There is something for everyone to do.

I have a particular interest in preventing child abuse. How do you prevent child abuse? You can make a determined heroic promise that you will never ever abuse a child and I will truly believe that you would never WANT to do that. But if you were abused as a child I would bet that the odds are better that 50/50 that you will abuse your own child in some way, shape, or form if you do not seek professional help.

Don’t believe me? Check the statistics on the ‘net.

I did. I hate the fact that I did. But I did.

I hit my children when I was angry. I said terrible things to them. Things that no mother should ever say to her babies. Eventually it got so bad I HAD to seek professional help because I was horrified by my behavior. I was horrified but I couldn’t stop. I was out of control.

I had to admit that I needed help if I was going to to end the cycle of abuse. If you are a parent who is in the position I was in, please, seek help. You can get help through your local Child Welfare Services, Domestic Abuse Crisis Lines or family doctor. The professionals you turn to will understand. You will not be punished and your children will not be taken away from you if you come forward. YOU are NOT a bad person but your behavior can and must change.

If you were abused as a child but don’t have children yet, PLEASE, seek professional help. Not only for your own sake, for the sake of your future children.

If you see a child being abused or know of a family where children are being abused DO SOMETHING. The child abuse hotline is 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4253) You can also help by getting involved in Child Abuse Prevention organizations

Make a decision to stop the abuse. Choose Hope.

Bless the beasts and the children
For in this world they have no voice
They have no choice

Bless the beasts and the children
For the world can never be
The world they see

Light their way
When the darkness surrounds them
Give them love
Let it shine all around them

Bless the beasts and the children
Give them shelter from a storm
Keep them safe
Keep them warm

Light their way
When the darkness surrounds them
Give them love
Let it shine all around them

Bless the beasts and the children
Give them shelter from a storm
Keep them safe
Keep them warm

The children
The children

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I was “talking” to “Iggie2Cats” over on The Delphi Forum Social Blunders about her Grandmother’s funeral. My Gran’s funeral (33 years ago come Thanksgiving weekend) was lovely too. Not as lovely her grandmother’s sounds though. It was paritally Quaker and the Friends believe in getting up and bearing personal witness to the departed person’s good life.

Our church was pretty staid. We had a “funeral dinner” that the church ladies cooked afterwards though and that’s where the story telling took place. The “remember whens.”My missionary cousins who grew up in Japan were horrified by all the laughing and undignified behavior going on. They kept saying their mother would not approve. I was perplexed by their lack of understanding of American Midwestern culture and their rigidity. They had been Japanized or their parents had lost touch with reality.

I have many good memories of my Gran. I was the only Grand-daughter who lived nearby for a good many years as she grew older so I was sort of her “favorite.” It wasn’t that I was more special than the other grand-daughters; it was just that I was there. Had they been there instead of me, it would have been they who benefited from my Gran’s needs instead of me.

I took piano lessons from about age 8 to age 13 and she not only paid for them, the dear heart had the piano and sat through the practicing. She would make me tea or cocoa and give me a “recess” during my hour so we could chat. I spent two hours with her every day. I suspect that she did this so that she would have some companionship and so that I was there while she cooked her dinner.

She was surely giving her poor ears a break during “recess” as I am dyslexic and could not play properly without watching my hands until I had the song memorized. I struggled to learn though because it meant so much to her and even if it took two weeks to learn one song, I carried on. Poor Gran. But she persevered as much as I until the piano teacher moved out of town. I can still sort of read music. But I have to watch my fingers while I play piano. Or type.

Quaker services are wonderful. I am agnostic/atheist. I have written out instructions that when I pass I want to have a Quaker-like funeral. On the cheap. My children are not to spend any money at some lavish funeral home. My children’s father had a funeral similar to a Quaker funeral. They said it was very moving and comforting to know how loved their father was by so many people. So was I.

I think mine will probably be held right here in the community room of the building I live in. Or at the Senior Center in case my “enemies” want to crash the party like they have been since I’ve lived here. I hope I pass in the spring so the flowering trees are in bloom in the courtyard and it is a sunny day. They can fill the room with lilacs! Or maybe fall because then my favorite Sunflowers are available and cheap. I want some songs to be sung and played on the boom box and I want people to be given some refereshemnts and then I want my kids to mingle with my friends awhile. No preaching. Maybe someone who is good with owords will get up and speak but I sort of doubt it. Ye gods and little fishes, it sounds like I am planning a wedding. <heh>

I am donating my body to medical science here at the University of Wisconsin-School of Medicine because I have a rare auto-immune disorder and I want them to study it so no viewing of the body and no real need for a funeral home to be involved. I hope that my children are present at my departure and so do they because that will mean I have time to prepare for it.

But then again, departing suddenly while I am doing something I love to do would not make me unhappy. Gran likely had a massive stroke making her pumpkin pies. My father on the other hand, had a brain aneurysm in the hospital. He must have had some inkling that something was going on because he buzzed the nurse and though he could not talk he smiled and squeezed her hand before he went into a coma.

They had to resuscitate him and hook him up to life support until the entire family could be notified and agree to turn those machines off. If even one of us had said no, he could still be alive today with machines breathing and feeding him. Terry Schiavo only worse. He was truly brain dead. Flatlined.

One of my brothers was a salesman and was on the road. We had no idea where he was and could not take any action whatsoever until we got state troopers in three states involved and they finally pulled him over on his way home. That was a horrible way to be told your father is dying.

I had to wait until my husband came home off the road to travel from Wisconsin to Nebraska. (I had faxed my notarized permission to the hospital) The last thing he wanted to do was get in a car and drive another 800 miles. So I did most of the driving while he and the kids slept. Daddy was already gone by the time I got there though.

I will have to be embalmed and if my kids want to use a funeral home and can afford to I guess that’s up to them but the University will do it for free. Seems silly to pay for it. But the funeral home will make me look nice and if the kids want to spend time with me after I die I guess I should look nice. <heh>

Well, in that case I wonder if I should plan what I want to wear or let them decide for me. I kind of got a bit of comfort going through Gran’s closet finding her favorite dress and beads for her. I had them put her worn Bible in her hands. I have so many memories of her sitting in her chair in the “front room” studying her Bible. Bless her heart. I guess I will let my daughter or my grand-daughter if I ever get one have the pleasure of going through my closet if they want to.

Whatever other medical research they can use me for at the University is OK too. Then-my body will be cremated and the remains will be returned to my children. They planted their father’s remains under an oak tree in my daughter’s yard. I want to be buried under a lilac bush or in a sunflower field.My son still has a small vial he carries around in the pick-up he inherited from him almost 10 years ago. I think that’s macabre but kind of sweet at the same time. He told me he is going to mingle his Dad’s ashes and mine when I die. Like *that’s* going to work some kind of magic. I just laugh at him but you know, in a way that is kind of a comforting thought. It’s like being buried next to your loved one.

BTW, everyone young and old should have a living will. Your family and significant other should know exactly what you want to have happen if you become incapacitated and unable to make medical decisions for yourself or unable to communicate your wishes. I don’t care how old you are, you need to do this. Do NOT burden your family with these important and heart rending decisions during emotionally traumatic events. You never know when you might meet tragedy.  My father was 47 years old.

B

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MerlinsDad and I began this discussion in Email and I brought it to my blog because I thought it was a good topic for my legacy to my Grandkid(s). See Ain’t I a Woman too and Kiss of the Blarney Stone for the build up to this post.

I had a big crisis of faith thing going on when I hit my teens. I had always had “inappropriate” questions, even as a child. I remember asking things and getting a very negative reaction from my Mother. My Father was much more open to discussions about whether there was or wasn’t a god. He’s also the one who told me there wasn’t a Santa Claus when I got upset because my brothers had ruined a doll and I was afraid Santa would think I didn’t appreciate my toys.

I was raised in a very fundamentalist bible banging christian church sort of like the southern baptists but so arroagant that they call themselves THE Christian church. (My friend MerlinsDad sent me this link to the History of The Christian Church extant.) Seriously. They are every bit as bad as the Catholics they preach against and condemn to Hell from the pulpit which happened to be more than a quarter of my family. Not to mention the boy I happened to be dating. That was kind of freaky but I really didn’t pay much attention until…

I was a junior in high school when Sunday school sunddenly turned into this crazy dump on the Catholics free for all. We took up the subject of Revelation and according to The Christian Church’s teachings, every bad thing mentioned in Revelation is connected to the Catholic Church. I got seriously pissed about it.

I’d already fought the battle of evolution vs science as a sophmore and in spite of my doubts, I’d refused to cave. I stood firmly with the christians and would not write one word that did not agree with biblical teachings. Were they proud of me for having the courage of my convictions? Hell no, they were not, the damn hypocrites. They told me I should have written what was required to pass the test. Even the pastor called me in and counseled me to do that.

Do you want to know who told me he was proud of me for having the courage of my convictions? My biology teacher, Mr Hefty, that’s who. He allowed me to write a paper to make up for flunking that test. He told me he believed that evolution and creationsism could be reconciled but he wasn’t my spiritual advisor so he wanted me to argue my side of the equation and how creationists countered the theory of evolution.

Fast forward about 15 years. I’m now living in Wisconsin and have explored every kind of sect and denomination of christianity within driving distance, including Mary Baker Eddy’s Christian Science not ot be confused with Ron L Hubbards Scientology. Every damn one of them have left me with a bad taste in my mouth and a headache. So I gave up trying to find a church I liked and just did my own thing.

I was going to college and was sort of a professional student. I loved the art of learning in a setting where you surrounded by so much intelligence and could choose to go as deeply into one or more subjects as you wanted. One of the things I was studying was Cultural Anthropology.

Cultural Anthropologists look at the culture they are studying as objectively as possible. Every aspect of human life is supposed to be observed and examined in minute detail to gather the facts without judgement or bias towards a thesis. That’s the ideal situation. Eventually when all of the facts have been gathered The Anthropologists can begin to make hypotheses about a culture.

One of the aspects of a culture that gets studied in minute detail is religion. All known cultures have had a belief a in a higher creative power and a creation myth of some sort. Studying the religions and anthropology fascinated me and I beban to see a pattern emerging.

I wanted to see what else the halls of higher learning could tell me objectively about religious belief so I took a Political Science course about religion. I don’t remember its name anymore but it was about how various religions impact and influence politics and a real eye opener for me about separation of church and state issues.

My favorite class of all in this religious quest were two Sociology of Religions classes that discussed various religious movements and finally we arrive at the Civil War.

I lost all of my reference books due to the ending of a relationship so I’m flying by the seat of my pants here. In the early 1800s the United States saw the beginning of a great upsurge in interest in religious movements and evangelical fervor amongst the mainstream churches as well as experimentations with new forms of religious expression and beliefs. There was a great deal of fragmentation amongst the protestants in the United States due to the fact that none of them can agree on what my friend Max reminded me are called ordinances rather than Sacraments as the Catholics call them in THE Christian Church.

There were so many preachers and Pastors out there stumping for the common man to convert to the denomination dujour that the northern New England area, particularly in the New York area became known as the “burned-over area” becasue it was believe that every man, woman, and child worth saving had heard the message of Christ’s “Good news plan for salvation.”

Traditional Christianity was the main force but it was not the only religious movemnt afoot. Of particular interest to me because it was bizaare and eventually because of my interest in re-enacting is Spiritualism.

The Fox Sisters are usually given credit for having started the Spiritualist craze here in the USA but in my opinion, they just capitalized on something that was already afoot and got their pictures in the New York newspapers first. It’s exceedingly hard to point a finger at one person and say Him or Her but Emmauel Swedenborg seems to have influenced most Spiritualists although I doubt he would have had much truck with any of them.

There were many famous Spiritualists in the USA and Abroad. The Fox sisters are considered the “first” but I don’t buy that designation at all. They were just the most popular in the beginning of the Great Spiritualist movement that began before the Cival War and reached its peak in the late 1800’s. So you see, all of this “New Age stuff, isn’t so new after all. It’s just been pulled out of the closet, dusted off and dressed up in today’s fashions. Check out Theosophy for an example of a New Age religion that was begun by Madame Blavatsky under the banner of the Spiritualist movement.

There were many famous people who consulted Spiritualists for messages and guidance from beyond just as we see today. Ronnie and Nancy Reagan caught a lot of flak for consulting astrologists during their stay in the Whitehouse. Abraham Lincoln supposedly brought a Spiritualist into his Cabinet’s “War Room” and discussed top secret battle plans with him. Those rumors have not been substantiated.

What has been substantiated is that Lincoln and Mary Todd invited several different Spiritualists to the White house after their second son died. They had soirees featuring the most famous Spiritualists of the day complete with seances and the events were duly reported in the paper. It caused a great stir of excitement amongs the more fundamentalist christian voters and is probably partially responsible for Lincoln’s approval ratings sinking so low just before his re-election. That and the fact that the war was going so horribly–rather like Iraq today.

I became an agnostic (meaning I don’t know absolutely that there is no higher power with god-like abilities such as omnipresence and omni-prescience) atheist (meaning I absolutely do not believe in any of the gods that I have been presented with so far) while I was pursuing these studies. I was an English major so I was also studying the anciet mygthology of traditional Rome, Greece and Egypt as well as The Europeans and British Isles. It became very clear to me that not only were religions manmade but so were the gods people worshipped. It was so patently obvious that gods were created in the image of the men and the cultures they lived in. I simply could not force myself to “have child-like faith” and believe what I had been raised to believe. I never had bought that story about Jonah and the whale. Stomach acid and poop. What about all that poop? I realized I had been a heretic my whole life and I gave up all pretense of being anything else.

So when I became a Civil War Re-enactress I decided to portray a middle-aged (in the mid 1800s middle-aged was about 30 years old) Irish widow with several young children to feed who took up Spiritualism as a way to earn money. She’s a sham of course but she puts on a good show.

She and her husband were Irish Tinkers or Travelors which is the Irish equivalent of European Gypsies and may very well have been descended from the same ancestral stock. They travel around Ireland to this day seeking itinerant work such as fixing pots and pans or sharpening knives in the 1800s which is why they were called tinkers and oftentimes the women told fortunes and begged with thier children to supplement their incomes.

My Persona and her husband came to America because of the Potato famines and he was hired to take the place of a wealthy New Yorker who had been conscripted into the Union Army. This was not only legal, it was encouraged because Lincon’s government needed cash more than they needed men to fight and they didn’t want to tax the people anymore than they absolutely had to so they came up with this system of allowing the wealthy to buy their way out of the draft. They could pay a poor man to take their place and they had to pay a substantial fine to the government for the privilege. And everyone was happy.

I came up with this persona because part of this is the true story of how some of my ancestors got their start in the United States. My however-many-greats Grandfather was a paid substitue for some rich New Yorker in the Civil War. He then re-enlisted so he and his wife and children could claim citizenship. After the war he re-enlisted for the the Indian Wars in the Nebraska Territories so he could have first choice at a homestead and finally they all settled down out in South Dakota.

Re-enacting is putting on a living history event in which people like me and the guy I was dating dress up in ridiculously hot clothes and pretend to be people who lived more than 145 years ago. We try to live exactly the way they would have lived without killing ourselves with food poisoning or heat stroke. That means sleeping on the ground with maybe a feather matress or a pad with cotton batting. But usually not. Generally you make do wiith some hay or straw thrown down on the ground, a couple of quilts and a rubberized tarp to keep the damp off. As the weekend goes by your bed gets shorter because your horse has to eat.

Everything you eat is cooked over a campfire in castiron or directly in the coals. The wind is always blowing in whichever direction the smoke will get in your eyes. Your dishes are tin and rusty or enamelware if your character is rich enough to be able to afford that on a camping trip. The soap is homemade and harsh. It invariably rains at least one night and floods the tent getting everything you own wet so you have to wear wet clothes the next day which will be hot and muggy.

All of this is done while other people who have paid to see this event are watching you. In effect you are an unpaid actor or actress who has to purchase hundreds of dollars worth of equipment for the privilege of being uncomfortable for 3 or 4 days at a time while people stare at you and wrinkle their noses at your body odor. Gosh it’s fun! Winter is known as “The Grumpy Season.”

Since I’m not all that into the clothes I mostly chose to wear black widow weeds except for the dances at night and then I became a widow on the make and seduced my Sergeant so he’d let me sleep in his tent or vice verse depending on where it was convenient to pitch the tent. <heh> Lots of the women got into re-enacting so they could dress up in the hoop skirts and beautiful dresses that women wore in the first half of the 1800s.

This is the Brigade or what-ever you call it I was attached to in their civillian unit. He was with the Artillery Unit. He’s the one that is dressed up in those funny clothes with the goofy “Oh boy, it’s my turn to shoot the cannon look in his eyes! ” standing in front of the wheel.

I’m having a bittersweet Kodak, Hallmark memory lane moment here. My illness has taken such a toll on my life. I absolutely loved re-enacting but I could not do it. I would get sick for days after an event as if I had food poisoning when in reality it was sun poisoning and sheer exhaustion. I would feel fine while I was there but damn the hangovers were a bitch and I wasn’t drinking the water or liquor… We drank bottled water in stainless steel canteens covered in canvas. <heh>

B

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