Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Why Writer's Write (And Bloggers Blog...)

It's been a few weeks since I announced that my new book "Sister America Goes To Prison: A Memoir" will be available for purchase on Amazon on February 16th of next year. There have been some family matters that have taken my attention away from promoting the book over the past several weeks, including the recent Thanksgiving celebration, but I'm looking forward to the radio interviews and other speaking engagements scheduled over the next few months and I hope to connect with others who share my concern over the parts of our system that simply aren't working.

Since I made the initial announcement, I have had several people contact me privately and share their own experiences with the U.S. penal system. As I know many of my friends were shocked to learn that I had spent time in prison, many of the people who have contacted me that I have known since childhood and reconnected with recently have left me equally surprised that they have been to jail or prison as well. It's not something many people know, but they choose to share it with me. That lets me know that there is a need for more information to be shared about issues related to incarceration, and that there is a shortage of people willing to talk about it publicly because there is so much shame associated with having been incarcerated.

This is one of the reasons I wanted to write this book - not only to give others who have been down the same road as I someone to relate to with regard to the many hidden struggles we "ex-convicts/ex-cons" face, but also to help those who will hopefully never see the inside of a jail or prison understand that there is a veritable mix of non-violent, societal contributors (albeit imperfect and not without errors in judgment) locked up at this moment, their incarceration which neither benefits or protects society in any way whatsoever. Clearly their crimes must be dealt with, but there exists a more intelligent and socially responsible way to do so, and it is through providing details of what one has seen that others may become aware of just how much money and how many lives are wasted and why we truly must do something to change what is quickly becoming a "prison nation".

There have been cynical people who have made comments that because there is money involved in the selling of a book that I am just "trying to get rich". What is laughable about that theory is that it is not unusual for authors to net about five cents an hour after all expenses are paid and the publishers get their cut. What's left isn't much. Sometimes it's not even enough to cover the expenses associated with writing a book (paper, software, computer, etc.)

I would love to write for a living, but thus far, I have had to supplement my meager writing income with things ranging from pizza delivery to app development and programming. If an opportunity comes up to participate in a think tank for pay, I take it. If someone needs a caretaker or babysitter, I do that. I also provide freelance grantwriting services and occasionally land a non-profit management consulting contract. I survive, and surviving allows me to continue doing what I enjoy the most.

Few authors ever make it to the national best seller's list, and many never even sell enough books to make writing a book any more lucrative than a minimum-wage-paying job. Why, then, do people write books? Are we all just playing the odds, hoping we will be one of the lucky few who manage to rise to the top?

For me, it's not about fame or fortune. I'm far too realistic for that to be a motivating factor. The reason behind all of my writing - be it blogging, books, or even social status updates, is to share my thoughts so I may connect with others, and to inspire others to embrace critical thinking and the logical conclusions to which it leads with regard to the many problems we face in our world.

There are those who believe our society to be so cynical that most people can not be motivated to action regarding this issue. These people often ask me whether or not I really think writing this book will make a difference, or whether any of the blogs and social status updates I post are worth the time and effort they require. My answer has always been that, yes, I do. However, over the past year that yes has become more of an "ABSOLUTELY!".

Last year, I began speaking on both internet radio talk shows and local A.M. & F.M. frequency radio talk shows about atheism. I also began blogging more about some of the issues that have come up for me personally as an atheist, and more recently, I have been sharing my views with my social networking groups.

Often, there will be severe opposition to anything I post promoting atheism, especially if it disputes what a religious person has come to believe. People don't respond well to having their world view challenged, and atheism definitely challenges the world view of many superstitious people.

Sometimes things get ugly, with those who do not like what I have to say using profanity and calling me names, and I've had more than a few death threats over the past year from radio listeners in the East Tennessee area in response to speaking about atheism and the nature of religion on local radio programs.

Often, when people are engaging me in a debate on the topic and I am able to invalidate what they are claiming and/or show that the case for skepticism stands up perfectly under scrutiny, they get frustrated with me. "Know-it-all" is a common term used to describe those who refuse to cow down to pseudo-intellectual bullies. (Those who respond to logic with emotional, irrational outbursts of frustration stemming from not being able to get us to blindly swallow their arguments without evidence, or even in the presence of evidence to the contrary.)

This is when many of my well-meaning friends will say "Angie, give it a rest. It's a waste of time." Even though many of them agree with me regarding the subject under discussion, they themselves do not understand why I continue to spar intellectually with people who don't seem to have the emotional maturity to engage in a true debate, much less grasp what is being discussed. And here is where I reveal something that many of you may not realize:

Over the past year, there have been no less than 137 people who live mostly in the southeastern United States who have privately contacted me after reading some of these exchanges to discuss their true feelings regarding religion and to confess that they do not believe there is any supernatural deity in control of this world. They know that I will not "out" them, and they know that I understand their dilemmas and what it's like to be a non-superstitious person in a world that promotes and rewards superstition and often punishes critical thinking.

These people have, for the first time in their lives, reached out to someone to speak the truth about what they believe. Many of them have known all of their lives that they do not believe, and have struggled between the logic that tells them something doesn't make sense and the fear which has been instilled in their minds. They are constantly at war inside, and many develop severe anxiety issues and other psychological maladies that might otherwise not have manifested. When they see that I am willing to boldly dispute unfounded claims presented as indisputable truths, they often tell me that they feel they have found "sanctuary" (a place for refuge and protection) from the religious zealots who seem to come at them from all angles. Truly, I understand where they are coming from, as there are religious forces in this world that threaten to strangle out any and all voices but their own.

I don't know that anything I have ever written has ever changed anyone's mind about anything. I do know that things I have written have given people the courage to fully embrace what they already believed and knew deep within themselves all along, but were bullied into stifling and pretending otherwise. That is reason enough for me to endure the bullying, the profanity, the name-calling, the death threats, the ostracizing, and everything else that goes along with speaking out against the status quo, even if the status quo has become "speaking out" against things that aren't really to blame for the problems we won't take responsibility for ourselves. I spar with those people as well.

Interestingly enough, I have connected with some pastors and clergy members who openly admit that they do not believe in heaven or hell, or even in a god in the supernatural sense. It is truly inspiring to see that people who have invested their lives in ministering to their communities through religion are able to embrace the truth as they see it and remind people that figurative meanings are just as powerful (if not more so) than any literal meanings found in scripture. Here are some articles for those who are interested:

The Morning Bulletin: Priest Doesn't Believe In God

Newsweek: Non-Believing Clergy

BBC News: Dutch Rethink Christianity For A Doubtful World

This is a world in which we are often pressured by the cast of characters in a societal play to speak and behave in ways which none of us truly believes is authentic. It's as though a spell has been cast on humanity, and the only way to break the spell is to provide access to those who are willing and able to defy it.

You may be surprised to learn that someone as outspoken as I often am on the subject is not critical of those who choose to say "in the closet". On the contrary, I am all too aware of what is at stake for many people. Careers are ruined, marriages ended, families torn apart, and social circles fragmented over things such as this. For some, the cost is acceptable, for others, it is not.

I do not have children I must worry about getting bullied by religious classmates at school. I do not have to worry about losing my job since I am self-employed (although undoubtedly I get few clients who are religious and know that I am a non-theist). I do not have to worry about my constituents refusing to vote for me because of a lack of superstitious beliefs. There are people who have too much to lose by refusing to play along. I have little to lose, and I feel that it is important that those of us who can do so speak out not only for ourselves, but on behalf of those who do not find this world safe enough to allow the openness that we all should be able to enjoy.

There are many believers who do not consider themselves to be "religious". There are religious people who are not zealots. Even these people often feel oppressed by those who take religion to an extreme, and I have had many of these people message me privately after reading my exchanges with some of those who engage in zealotry and tell me that, while they are believers, they are appalled at the behavior of some of their fellow-Christians and think I'm not getting treated fairly and that they enjoy reading what I have to say. That tells me that even among religious people there is a need for someone to stand up to the extremists.

I often mention "Christians" when discussing religious extremists, because there are many Christians in this country who behave as American Christian versions of Al Qaeda. They may not have plans to kill anyone, and many of the extremist Muslims do not either, but these militant Christians do declare that everyone else is wrong for not allowing them the privelege of being the only voice when it comes to seasonal holiday celebrations, often getting very angry at those who choose to remain secular in their greetings and refusing to acknowledge that their religion hijacked older holidays, not the other way around.

And then there is this very disturbing information, which made me shudder when I digested it:

I truly have a desire to share information and give as many people as possible the chance to be free of the shackles that the world puts on us through fear, intimidation, and lies. It matters not to me that they may believe their own lies. They are still potentially very dangerous, and they need to be confronted. If that means that some of my friends become annoyed at reading my relentless counter-arguments to those who continue to insist that their faith-based declarations are true and must be accepted or else one will suffer life in the eternal lake of fire, then so be it.

It isn't the people I'm sparring with who are the intended beneficiaries of the debate. It is the people sitting quietly in front of their computers, tablets, or smartphones who dare not reveal themselves who are taking it all in and trying to gather the courage to shake off the heavy chains of delusion that weigh so many down in this one life that we know for a fact we have to live.


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