Saturday, June 13, 2015

The United States Was Not Founded on Christianity

Today I logged onto Facebook to find my feed quite concerned with the nature of our country’s origins. Now, I don’t consider myself an especially patriotic person, but I do love this country and I’m thankful I was born here (though The Netherlands makes a close second). I’d like to start out with a very popular quote when it comes to this matter as well as a passage from the Constitution itself:
“The government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.”—John Adams
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
I’m going to give everyone the benefit of the doubt and assume you know that the First Amendment in the Bill of Rights grants freedom of religion. Freedom of religion also encompasses freedom of non-religion, the choice to not belong to an organized belief society and/or to not believe in a god, God, or gods. Pretty much, you have your own say in what you believe and no one else gets to tell you otherwise. Somehow, this is where we lost a loud majority of Christians. 

And before anyone starts screaming, “It isn’t a majority! They make us look bad!” I’m sorry, that argument has failed. Only a majority could get as much power as they have between their politicians and richer-than-the-Queen Mega Churches, and because there are many who won’t speak out and just follow the path laid out for them without questioning, without really asking “Why?” and “What for?” I do want to stop and say I realize not all Christians are like this. I am friend to many lovely people who believe in God, but they are very different from the people I speak against in this post. They do not judge others, they embrace them for their differences, and they are more like “Followers of Christ” than modern day “Christians.” If they lead their brethren, this would not be an issue. 

Our Founding Fathers came from a place where they felt religious persecution for their brand of Christianity. I believe they were mostly thinking of themselves when they wrote it into law that no religion should rise above another in this country, because they did not want to see themselves persecuted again. But they knew who they would be protecting, they were men of vision after all. In fact, there isn’t a single mention of God through the entirety of the Constitution.

In his HuffPost article “Founding Fathers: We are Not a Christian Nation,” Jeff Schweitzer hits the nail on the issue’s head: 
“The facts of our history are easy enough to verify. Anybody who ignorantly insists that our nation is founded on Christian ideals need only look at the four most important documents from our early history -- the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, the Federalist Papers and the Constitution -- to disprove that ridiculous religious bias. All four documents unambiguously prove our secular origins.”
In fact, the entire article is a great read on this subject and I’ll leave you with it to end this post. Be forewarned that he is a bit combative, but this is something that has gone from a nuisance to downright irritating over the past few years and it needs to stop, so his tone should be at least somewhat forgiven. 

Monday, August 11, 2014

Proof That Depression Can Get Anyone - Goodbye, Robin Williams

Like most of the world, today I mourn the loss of the legendary Robin Williams. I honestly don't believe there's a living generation left untouched by this magnificent man. He was a comedian, an actor, a good man. He entertained and inspired us with movies ranging from Mrs. Doubtfire and Aladdin to Good Will Hunting and Dead Poet's Society. He was one of the funniest men to ever live, that may ever live, and a prime example of the old adage, "Those who smile the brightest are the saddest." I don't want to dedicate a long post to how his death will impact the perception of mental illness and psychological disorders, especially depression, because it feels wrong to use his death to advance an agenda, even one I believe is for good. But it seems foolish to ignore it too, because I believe he would want his death to mean something more. To compromise, I'll write only a short blog.

Even since I was in high school five years ago I have seen a change in how people with depression are perceived. While it is still far from perfect, people are slowly being more educated about what it means to have depression. It doesn't mean you're insane, it doesn't mean you're always sad, and it can't always be alleviated by anyone or anything. It is not something to ostracize people for. It is not a sign of weakness. It is very human.

My heart breaks for Robin Williams. If there are souls, if there is an afterlife, or anything of the sort, I hope it is good to him.

- C.A. Swaim

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Why Humanist is The New Feminist

A friend posted this in response to France upholding its burqa ban. This about sums up the modern feminist movement, which usually brings to my mind Femen. Both of the women in this image have been called a product a male-dominated culture. Perhaps that is true, but that's only one side of a multi-faceted issue. It is not as simple as, "Men said so, so it is." This is an issue that I have a very clear, strong belief on. To tell any person what they can and cannot be is equally wrong. Blaming the other sex is wrong. Like many women, I have accused men of certain things. Well, there are some things that are the product of male influence. But there's just as much product of female influence. The issue is media coverage, it seems. Things that put down women receives exponentially more coverage than anything that demeans men.

I've recently become a fan of Jaclyn Glenn's channel on Youtube. She has a good video about feminism that sums up my thoughts almost exactly. The average modern feminist is often negatively aggressive, hypocritical, rigid in what being a feminist and/or woman means, and overall more oppressive than the original oppression.

(This is not to say that I don't think there's an equality problem between men and women. Women are paid less than men, women are still viewed as being less than men, and women are blamed for rape; but things are getting better.)

Typically, if asked, I just state that I'm a humanist. Because I'm much more than someone for equal rights between men and women: I'm for equal treatment of all sexuality, all genders, all races, everyone. I'm for equality between everyone. I'm for the fair treatment of everyone. I'm for everyone having the innate right to life. But also because I believe everyone has the ability to be good without god(s) (that's another discussion entirely). It is convenient for me to roll all this up into that single term if I must label myself. Anyone who understands the deep-seeded truth behind feminism will agree with me (except about the God thing, perhaps). The deep down reason behind feminism is that no one should be denied something based on who they are, no matter who they are. That sentiment can be applied to everyone in one situation or another throughout the world.

- C.A. Swaim

Hobby Lobby and Why SCOTUS Shouldn't Have Ruled In Favor

I've been watching the backlash of the Supreme Court decision on whether Hobby Lobby should have to cover Plan B and IUDs and I've finally decided to write a blog post about it. People seem to be missing the entire issue here. The issue is not that Hobby Lobby isn't covering certain birth controls, at least not in entirety because they still cover many birth controls. The issue is that the Supreme Court has allowed a company to finagle out of a law by claiming religious beliefs. 

I do not believe companies should be allowed to get out of anything based on religious beliefs, and this is why: Companies are not individual people, they are groups of people, and those people do not necessarily all share the same beliefs. Even if they did, only an individual should be able to claim religious beliefs. If the company is able to pay for the coverage, and it is required by law, then they should be made to cover it, end of story. It seems just absurd for a company to be able to claim a religion.

Now there's a giant hole for business lawyers to jump through. "Well, the founder was a Jehovah's Witness. We can use that to keep from paying for blood transfusions!" "The current CEO is a Scientologist, we don't have to cover psychological drugs anymore!" That's not to mention the companies that will claim fake religious beliefs to get out of certain laws now. If you don't think any of this will happen, well...I envy your positive outlook on people.

Everyone is entitled to their religion, but I'm tired of people getting special treatment because they're religious. I believe churches, synagogues, etc. should pay taxes. Can you IMAGINE what would happen to our deficit if places of worship paid a tax, even a small one? Yes, people should be allowed to dress a certain way if their religion calls for it; and yes, people should be allowed religious holidays off from work. But again, a company is not a singular person with a belief. 

I believe companies should be free of religion, a business is not the place for it. It would be a different issue entirely if the company simply could not pay for the birth controls to be in their healthcare plan. And while many people are screaming about their right to do this, they can't seem to provide a good explanation for why just Plan B and IUDs, when drugs like Viagra are still covered. It's picking and choosing, and that should have been a major red flag to SCOTUS.

Yes, these women can get the Plan B and IUDs elsewhere. The company cannot and has not tried to limit that. But Hobby Lobby has just been allowed to impose their beliefs on their employees. What was wrong with covering Plan B and IUDs, really? It's not like it's the equivalent of telling people they HAVE to use it, but they have just told them they cannot unless they pay for it themselves. That is an imposition.

I could have more easily agreed to something along the lines of Hobby Lobby only paying for one type of emergency contraceptive and IUD, as my boyfriend suggested when I was talking to him about it. Then they could still maintain their beliefs but also satisfy the law. I don't know if that was even a thought to Hobby Lobby or SCOTUS, however.

So, bottom line: I don't think for-profit corporations should be allowed to claim religious rights, I think SCOTUS's ruling
was a bad one, and people are hopping on a bandwagon of anger without looking into or thinking critically about the facts.

- C.A. Swaim

Update (July 3, 2014): The beautiful Jaclyn Glenn has released a video on the issue, and once again I find myself nodding my head in agreement with her. I don't see whose religious beliefs got violated in this situation as she says, but I believe she really meant freedoms. The women affected have had their freedom diminished by another's religion, and that's unconstitutional.
Update (July 4, 2014): And so it begins.

- C.A. Swaim

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Creationism Does Not Deserve Equal Time In Science

Not too long ago I thought it would be fair if evolution and creationism were taught side by side, so that "everyone would hear both sides." My high school freshmen biology teacher made this argument as well, but now I believe he only did so because of his audience. He was to be the first person to teach evolution in that school system, at least in awhile. It was also his first year teaching, and he didn't want political backlash from Bible Belt parents to ruin his career right from the start. It was only a few short years later that he dropped this pretense. He established himself as invaluable to the school system (becoming the AP biology teacher and turning out more 5 and 4s on the exam than any in the state) and began to speak his mind. This is when I realized that I only agreed with teaching creationism out of a compromise, because I just wanted people to shut up about it, and I thought evolution was so important to learn that it had to get in the classrooms somehow. I started to look critically at the idea of creationism, and now I realize that it can only be taught in theology (and I don't know many high schools around here that have a theology course). Because you see, creationism is not science. It cannot even be called a theory, it does not have any peer-reviewed, critical evidence backing it up (because that is what a theory is, my friends). Believe it if you want, but it is high time for it to only be taught in church classrooms, not the public one.


  [thee-uh-ree, theer-ee] 
noun, plural the·o·ries.
a coherent group of tested general propositions, commonly regarded as correct, that can be used asprinciples of explanation and prediction for a class of phenomena: Einstein's theory of relativity.principle, law, doctrine.
a proposed explanation whose status is still conjectural and subject to experimentation, in contrastto well-established propositions that are regarded as reporting matters of actual fact. idea, notion hypothesis, postulate. practice, verification, corroboration, substantiation.
Mathematics a body of principles, theorems, or the like, belonging to one subject: number theory.
the branch of a science or art that deals with its principles or methods, as distinguished from itspractice: music theory.
a particular conception or view of something to be done or of the method of doing it; a system ofrules or principles: conflicting theories of how children best learn to read.

This article points out many of the flaws not just with the documentary "Evolution's Achilles' Heels" but with the entire idea of creationism as a science. In science, peer review is a must. If work is not critically torn apart, retested, and retested again then it is not considered creditable. Many "scientists" of creationism do not allow any skepticism on the subject, an example being the disabling of comments on the trailer. One of the most common examples I know of, "If you question it you're questioning God, and that's bad." Also, the claim that evolution cannot be seen or tested is unfounded. We have seen evolution in insects, whose populations are much larger and faster growing than our own, therefore their evolution occurs at a faster rate, one we can observe. Also microorganisms, and there are currently fish in the process of growing legs. They seem to forget that creationism is the one that cannot be tested. To deny evolution at this point, when there is an abundance of evidence, is equivalent to denying gravity or denying oxygen.

Thankfully, some places are finally taking that brave step and saying "No!" to creationists.

- C.A. Swaim

Monday, June 16, 2014

KFC Paying Medical Bills for Mississippi Girl Who Was Asked to Leave Because Her Facial Injuries 'Scared' Diners

This story was trending on Facebook today. This little girl is only three-years-old and already lived through a traumatic event, and now the narrow-mindedness of a KFC employee has made it worse. What gets to me the most is that this girl was not ashamed of how her injuries looked until this incident. Now she doesn't want to get out of the car or even look in the mirror. The actions by the employee(s) has damaged her self-esteem, and it seems to be by a substantial amount. Being so young, I hope she bounces back with full force. If this causes her to feel shame then it is a second traumatic event in only three years of life.

I do not, however, blame KFC in entirety. The company's response and the comments made about the particular store's owner, plus my experience with fast food restaurants (I worked for Burger King and currently work for McDonald's), lead me to believe this is the actions of a single or small group of employees, or a manager, and not a reflection on the company as a whole. Through training, most fast food companies cannot make it clear enough that their employees should treat customers with the utmost respect, even if they're in your face about something. I can't imagine any reason why the owners would perpetuate this type of behavior. What is on the company's shoulders, however, is their responsibility for these employee(s)'s actions. Whether this is the first time the employee(s) has actually stepped out of line or the last (and it should be the last), the company must own up for it. And it seems they are doing so, by launching an investigation and also the one store offering a free picnic for the girl and her family. My father was a general contractor who mostly built KFC stores for franchisees. Through him I met a lot of them, and none would condone turning away that little girl.

You should take a moment to check out Victoria Wilcher's Facebook community, Victoria's Victories.

- C.A. Swaim

Update (June 24, 2014 2:15AM): So it appears this story is a hoax, a scam to get money for the medical bills allegedly. I feel thoroughly duped, and a little humiliated. I want to applaud KFC for standing by their commitment to the little girl, despite what the investigation reveals.

The little girl is not to blame here, but I believe something worse has happened to her than being humiliated at a fast food restaurant. Her family just used her to make people donate money, even if that money was for her medical bills. This story has the possibility of following her around her whole life. It will effect her reputation, even though as a 3-year-old she cannot be held accountable for any of this.  All I can do is shake my head.

- C.A. Swaim

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Antidepressants Are Not The Enemy

I just stumbled across an old Yahoo! Answers question that had me physically shaking my head. I won't share a link to it here because, 1) The question is over two years old and, 2) I don't want to be responsible for any responses to her. The question's author (obviously a teenage girl) asked, "Was it wrong for me to throw my sister's antidepressants away?" Before even getting into her story and reasoning I was already alarmed. No matter what the medication is, even if it's just Advil, one should NEVER throw away another's medicine. What makes this situation worse is that she did it out of SPITE. Apparently, she smuggled her boyfriend into the house and they had sex, her sister found out/saw and told their mother. Her reasoning for throwing away her sister's antidepressants are, "She's crazy and she told on me." Obviously this young lady is immature, and I can't stop myself from hoping she and her boyfriend are at least using adequate birth control. But this issue is not why the girl did this, but why one should never do this. The issue of should one take antidepressants is also raised here, because in her question she specifically asks for Christian input, and I know from doing a small amount of research (and from personal experience with a close family member) that many Christians believe that accepting Jesus Christ as your lord and savior is enough to cure anything, and "depression is not a real disease" (words actually said to me by the before-mentioned family member). This is what I want to talk about specifically.

I am not a doctor, I have not studied depression and other mental disorders extensively, but have taken two psychology classes at the University of Georgia. That still does not make me remotely qualified. I have, though, suffered from depression for many, many years. I was diagnosed with manic depression in 2009, but I had been struggling for years leading up to that. I have been on many different types of antidepressants and now take Lexapro, one that has worked well for me for the past couple of years. 

In my experience with depression and with others who have, are or think they are suffering from depression I have come to understand that there are essentially two types of depression: Environmental and chemical. Any one case of depression in an individual is usually a mixture of these types. For me, it is almost entirely chemical. When it is chemical, it means there is a shortage of serotonin and/or dopamine production in the brain. The antidepressants stimulate the production of the chemical missing. When it is environmental, a person's current situation affects the production of this chemical, though not always and not permanently. Examples of environmental conditions can be anything from work and school to being in prison or dealing with family woes. It can be anything. In environmental-only cases, perhaps taking Jesus Christ into one's heart could be healing but only in the sense that the person has found an outlet for what is causing their depression. For chemical cases, it wouldn't do much. It is not Jesus Christ or the religion itself that is curing the depression, but the finding of companionship or a method through which the depression can be vented. Many other things can be substituted here: There is meditation, taking up a craft, finding a group of new friends such as a book club, and so,
so much more. It also greatly depends on the type of depression and what is causing it.

Antidepressants have a bad reputation because it is very hard to tell between chemical and environmental and whether a person needs them or just a change of scenery. My doctor told me there are plenty of people who take them for a couple of years and then quit, but it's difficult. For one, certain medications leave a person feeling very ill even if they wean off of them. I know if I haven't taken my Lexapro in awhile and it starts to bleed out of my system I get to where I'm nauseous and exhausted all the time. And guilty, that's the worst part. I couldn't even tell you what I felt guilty

The issue of how mental illnesses are perceived in this country is finally making its way to the forefront of healthcare discussions. However it is very early in the game, so still in many people's minds needing an antidepressant or other medication for a mental issue is an indication of insanity, something to be criminalized and avoided. I can guarantee anyone who has ever had to deal with a mental issue has been told they're faking it for attention, or they're weak. It is not weakness, it is part of being human. Mental illness is not a plague, it is not a state of mind that creates sub-humans, it is an issue just as serious as cancer and should be treated as such. Too often people do not receive adequate care because they are fearful to be told they're just crazy or faking it. I am fortunate to have a primary care physician who does not think this way in the least, but also doesn't just dole out antidepressants to anyone who comes in and says, "I'm sad."

I'll just say this again: Mental illness is not a plague, it is not a fake illness, it cannot be cured by the Bible or Jesus Christ. It is part of being human.

- C.A. Swaim