Monthly Archives: August 2009

The end of an era

Reading Rainbow canceled after 26 year run

The show’s run is ending, Grant explains, because no one — not the station, not PBS, not the Corporation for Public Broadcasting — will put up the several hundred thousand dollars needed to renew the show’s broadcast rights.

Grant says the funding crunch is partially to blame, but the decision to end Reading Rainbow can also be traced to a shift in the philosophy of educational television programming. The change started with the Department of Education under the Bush administration, he explains, which wanted to see a much heavier focus on the basic tools of reading — like phonics and spelling.

Grant says that PBS, CPB and the Department of Education put significant funding toward programming that would teach kids how to read — but that’s not what Reading Rainbow was trying to do.

Reading Rainbow taught kids why to read,” Grant says. “You know, the love of reading — [the show] encouraged kids to pick up a book and to read.”

So sad to read this news! Reading Rainbow was one of my very favorite shows growing up. Just watching the opening credits to the show gives me the tingles. I saw Lavar Burton on a Star Trek movie last night, and I immediately thought about him in Reading Rainbow episodes.

My favorite part of the show was the “you don’t have to take my word for it” part, where ordinary kids would recommend a favorite book to read. They would always end their mini-book-review with the saying, “you don’t have to take my word for it!” Secretly I would fantasize about me being on camera, and which book I would recommend (my recommendations would change, week by week).

[hey, but isn't "you don't have to take my word for it" the best skeptical mantra a kid could have? It encouraged kids to listen to the review, but then check out the book for yourself. I must have been destined to be a skeptic from a young age, I tell ya.]

Anyway, even though I haven’t thought about Reading Rainbow for years now, there’s a big part of me that’s sad about its passing. Now that I’ve got a little one of my own, I’m hoping I’ll be able to pass on the love of reading that was given to me at a young age.

I suppose, for now, Emma (and I) will have to settle for the elusive episode I can find online, and for a few of these box sets I found on Amazon.

For those of you who are looking for a trip down memory lane, I found an episode of RR from 1983 (!!) on YouTube here: part 1, part 2, part 3.

Unwired for God

There is a common belief that if some trait or behavior is wired into the brain, it is unchangeable, inevitable. (The same goes for anything genetically based, but we’ll leave that myth to another day.) Which makes the latest data on religiosity even more fascinating.

In brief, the number of American non-believers has doubled since 1990, a 2008 Pew survey found, and increased even more in some other advanced democracies. What’s curious is not so much the overall decline of belief (which has caused the Vatican to lament the de-Christianization of Europe) as the pattern. In a paper last month in the online journal Evolutionary Psychology, Gregory Paul finds that countries with the lowest rates of social dysfunction—based on 25 measures, including rates of homicide, abortion, teen pregnancy, sexually transmitted disease, unemployment, and poverty—have become the most secular. Those with the most dysfunction, such as Portugal and the U.S., are the most religious, as measured by self-professed belief, church attendance, habits of prayer, and the like.


duet, originally uploaded by becky b..

Emma and her best friend Jack, duet-ing.

Move over, Johnny Cash and June Carter!

yet another cool garage sale find

I think I paid around 50 cents for it.

the one false church

Infuriating, on so many levels. Here’s hoping its ranks continue to dwindle.

Penn & Teller discuss the Catholic Church and their involvement in anti-homosexuality efforts, condom use, and the cover up of the priest abuse sex scandal. They talk with an Italian comedian that was punished for criticizing Pope Benedict the XVI.


What he said:

Senator Ted Kennedy at Liberty University, circa 1983:

Read all of Senator Kennedy’s speech here. An excerpt not shown in the above video:

The separation of church and state can sometimes be frustrating for women and men of deep religious faith. They may be tempted to misuse government in order to impose a value which they cannot persuade others to accept. But once we succumb to that temptation, we step onto a slippery slope where everyone’s freedom is at risk.

Lest ye be judged

One of the books I’m currently reading is Dan Barker’s book (and partial autobiography) Godless: How an Evangelical Preacher Became one of America’s Leading Atheists. I’m really enjoying it, especially since Barker is someone from my tribe — he, too, was big into church and the American evangelical movement, but gradually found himself slipping away from the faith he grew up in, until he rejected it completely. Granted, he was more vocationally involved than I was — he was a missionary, preacher, Christian songwriter and music producer. (ironically, he still gets royalty checks for some of his Christian musicals!)

I’m fascinated and comforted by reading his story of deconversion, and I’m finding that I can relate to many of the faults he’s found in Christian dogma. Barker’s voice in this book is really engaging, but again, I think the main reason I’m enjoying this book so much is because we had similar paths growing and outgrowing Christianity.

While I’m usually not that big of a fan of marking up books, I’m finding that there are several places in this one that I just have to underline. There have been a few sentences that I’ve been thinking about over the last few days — when Barker talked about “coming out” to his religious family about his disbelief, he wrote that he didn’t expect them to necessarily understand or support his decision. Likewise, he also didn’t seek to deconvert them away from their faith. Instead, Barker said: “I have repeatedly told all my children that my love for them is not contingent on what they believe.” (p.65)

Later in the book, he wrote: “I think people should be judged by their actions, not by their beliefs.” (p.81)

What’s great about Barker’s book is that he’s got a powerfully simple way of expressing some meaningful truths. I’ve been mulling over these statements in my head over the past few days — thinking about what it means to judge others not by their beliefs, but by their actions.

For the most part, I think I already pretty much live by this principle. Admittedly, I know that I’m unrelenting in much of my criticism of dogma — but my critique isn’t usually aimed at the people who believe such things, unless these believers are letting their dogma color their actions toward others. For example, if you personally believe homosexuality is an abomination, but aren’t out there crusading against same-sex marriage, then I’m not going to quarrel with what’s going on inside your head. But when what’s inside your head starts to infringe (and harm) others, that’s when I’ll start setting my sights your way.

But there’s another example in how I try to judge others by their actions and not beliefs — I know, for a fact, that many of my family and (few remaining) religious friends think that I’m hell-bound for all eternity because I have rejected God. My eternal damnation is a sincere belief they hold — and while I may view this particular part of their dogma as a crippling, abusive, crowd-control type of measure, I don’t let that get in the way of my relationship with them.

Jerry and I are the closest, family-wise, to a brother of his who has beliefs that run completely counter to how we see the world. But this brother and his wife, despite their strongly-held beliefs, have always been kind and supportive to us — these actions, to me, speak much louder than any post-life damnation belief they may hold about us.

[Of course, there's always an exception to the rule: not too long ago the hellfire damnation belief reared its head toward Jerry and I, and led another family member to testify to us of our fiery future. Since that belief crossed over into an aggressive conversation (aka action), our relationship was undoubtedly negatively affected.]

The concept of letting peoples’ actions speak louder than their beliefs may sound completely foreign to the typical Protestant, “faith not works” type of believer. Thanks to Martin Luther and the Reformation, that three word phrase is pretty much a mantra in much of Christianity today. It’s a load of crap. (see, this is me attacking the idea, not the person)

It doesn’t matter what beliefs you may espouse, if your actions don’t match up, any beliefs you may hold are pretty much meaningless.

For example, lately on the Christian Internets (of which I subversively lurk), the latest phrase d’jour is all about the role of LOVE — Love’s primacy over knowledge, all of life’s purpose comes down to love, etc. Yet just this week, one of these believers who has been espousing love’s role in relationships decided to show me anything BUT love in an online exchange we had. Sure, it could have just been a flight of the temper, or just maybe he was just having a bad day, but when I hear anyone proclaim such platitudes, but then not follow through with them in real life, I just hear a hollow ring.

Ultimately it doesn’t matter what you believe if that belief doesn’t change the way you ACT — and this goes for both believers and nonbelievers alike.

Maybe another reason why I’m drawn to judging people by their actions and not beliefs is due to something more personal. So many of my relationships have been dramatically changed since I came out as an atheist. Even though I didn’t change, in a moral or ethical capacity, from the day people still presumed I believed in God to the day I admitted that I no longer did, I feel that there’s now a screen that many people view me through.

I’m no longer viewed as simply Becky, because now I’m Becky-the-godless-atheist, where no matter what I say or do, it’s judged differently because I no longer hold onto a certain belief system. My actions are primarily viewed through my beliefs (or lack thereof), rather than having my actions considered before them.

I don’t like it. I don’t like that now I’m held suspect, no matter what I actually DO, because I no longer subscribe to a certain ideology. Maybe it’s because I don’t like being misunderstood or misrepresented. Maybe it’s due to all the feelings involved with the quote I linked below, the “struggle between our desire to be ourselves and our desire to be loved.”

Regardless, since I can’t control how others may choose to judge me, I can at least make more of an effort to practice whatever it is that I preach — I’ll start by looking to someone’s actions before I judge them for whatever it is they believe, because their actions will tell me more about who they are than any of their beliefs ever could.