Thursday, June 27, 2013

On Love and Cake

Love is a many splendored thing.

Love lifts us up where we belong.

All you need is love.

Love is the mysterious driving force responsible for the very best of what we are. It is the delightful cocktail of chemicals and hormones that our own bodies create as a response to another human. Love is the perfect, organic, specifically contrived emotion usually associated with our own personal lifetime superlatives. Without it, without those fantastically inspirational highs and lows, the way that we view the world would be bland, and unexcitingly monotone. Without love, there would certainly be no cake.

When I mention "cake", I am not talking about some homogenized mass of partially plant-based nutrition held together by gluten and starch. I am talking about decadence. I am talking about something so delicious and so lovely that it is inherently special. I am talking about something that takes attention to detail and devotion  to create. Cake is what happens when we surpass mere survival. Cake is important, and people that love each other, whether it be romantic love between two people, familial love, or neighborly love, eat cake in celebration of happy togetherness.

Why all this love and cake business? Well, DOMA has been struck down, and that got me thinking quite a bit about both of those things. Of course, whether or not someone can have their loved one's health benefits doesn't usually dissuade love from occurring, but it makes the road a lot bumpier, and it makes things like cake difficult to come by.

Love endures hardships, and even makes them easier to bear. And many will suffer hardship for the survival of love to the extent of sacrificing themselves for the object of their affection. Many have endured hardships such as these because their governments have made their love illegal, and even punishable by death. Some governments don't go quite that far, but determine the validity of one person's love for another by definition of gender.

It baffles me that this could be so. I don't understand why the very thing that makes us the happiest would be persecuted. Love is this beautiful, mutual release of chemicals in our brains that makes us euphoric, and doesn't it make sense that happy people are going to be more cooperative and commit less crimes? Additionally, doesn't it make sense that depriving people of what makes them happy would provoke them and make them less cooperative? Why wouldn't the government want us happy?

Everyone deserves to be happy. Not just content, but happy. Bliss should occur from time to time in everyone's lives, and so should cake. Even if your "cake" is pie, or cookies, or wine, there should be some mutual frivolity in the observance of joyous events. Love is beautiful and wonderful and good by itself, but love should be enjoyed, not just endured.

I am a very lucky person. I am lucky that the person I fell in love with and wanted to marry is a man, and that I am a woman, and that it complies with social norms, and that my love for my husband is celebrated and recognized. I wish everyone could be as lucky in, not only finding someone special, but in celebrating that. And when it was announced that the Supreme Court overturned the Defense of Marriage Act, I knew we were one step closer to everyone being able to eat cake.

Brief (haha) tutorial on how to make this Rainbow Sprinkle Cake:
Approximate time to prepare: 3.5 hours 

1. For the cake batter, and the frosting, I used the recipe here:
You can alter the flavorings a little, if you like. I added some lemon to the frosting. The amounts in this recipe are perfect. You will have just enough of everything. Follow the instructions and method the way she says. It seems like a lot of work, but trust me, it is worth every minute. Rosie is my cake goddess, and I do not deviate from her cake dogma.

2. Divide the cake batter up into 6 even amounts. There should be about 1 cup of cake batter in each bowl. Use gel food dye to color the cake batter red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple. You should be able to find gel food color in the grocery store. It won't change the consistency of the cake the way that liquid dye would.

3. Grease and flour two 8" cake pans. I only have two. If you have more, go ahead and grease and flour them, too. Spoon the colored batter into a cake pan. One pan per color. Be sure to drop your cake pans a dozen times or more on a flat surface. Just hold the pan with batter level about six inches above your surface and drop it evenly. I put a dish towel on the counter to make it a little less noisy. I baked each layer side by side in the oven for 14 minutes at 350 F.

4. When each layer is done baking, cool for about 15 minutes and turn out of pan. Wrap the layers in plastic wrap and set aside until all of your layers are ready. This will keep them from drying out.

5. Whip up your frosting!

6. Starting with the purple layer, frost with about six tablespoons of frosting, and add the next layer. Colors from top to bottom should be: purple, blue, green, yellow, orange, red. Repeat until all of your layers have been applied. Frost the sides with a "crumb layer". This is a thin layer of frosting that fills in the sides and seals in the crumbs. Frost the top of the cake with a thin crumb layer, as well. Put the cake in the refrigerator for about 15 minutes to firm up the frosting.

7. After refrigeration, take out the cake and apply most of the remaining frosting. Set aside about half a cup of frosting for piping the top, if you like. Put the cake back in the refrigerator for about 5 minutes. You don't want the frosting too firm, because you need the sprinkles to stick.

8. Sprinkles! I combined rainbow sprinkles, rainbow non-pareils, and rainbow sugar stars in a bowl. You can use whatever sprinkles you like.

9. Take the cake out of the refrigerator and prepare for sprinkles to get into places where you might not normally find them. I grabbed a handful and pressed them against the sides of the cake, cupping my palm around the sprinkles and starting at the bottom. Work your way over the sides of the cake. Sprinkles will probably go everywhere. I am still finding them places in my kitchen. Take precautions, if you like. I wish you luck.

10. Pipe a border on the top edge of the cake. I used a star tip, but you can do whatever you like. After that, apply more sprinkles to the top of the cake. Put the cake back in the refrigerator for at least ten minutes before cutting to firm up the frosting and allow the sprinkles to adhere.

11. Show off (and dish out) your masterpiece!

Monday, June 24, 2013

You're going to hell, kid.

"You're going to hell."

If you are an atheist, then you've most certainly heard this uttered in one way or another. And if you are a Christian or a Muslim, then you've heard or read this put in terms of consequences for "sinful" actions or thoughts, only one of these being disbelief.

Hell (or Jahannam), as it is described in the Bible and in the Qu'ran is pretty serious. In both versions, your entire life is scrutinized, and upon being found less than worthy, you are cast into some pit involving fire. I've burned my fingers on hot dishes and I've been splattered countless times by hot grease, and I know from experience that hot things can be pretty painful, so I can only assume that the sensation of being burned over your entire body, for a longer period of time than I can fathom, would be indescribably miserable. There are many more descriptions of that, but I am pretty sure that the purpose is to lay out the worst possible situation, create a fear response, and then use that fear to keep the sheep from wandering too far astray.

Many people believe that Hell is real, and when they find out that your thoughts and ideas have you on a fast track to the absolute worst thing ever, some of them want to save you. I have to admire their effort and their good intentions, so when people try to talk to me, I choose not to be rude or blunt, but merely conversational. I used to be a believer, and I know how they feel. I'm an adult, and I can conduct myself responsibly, even when I disagree with the person in front of me.
But what about children?

Let's think about that one for a minute. Some kids can hack it. Some kids are master negotiators at the age of five, but some of them aren't. Even the best of them still have yet-developing child brains that tend to soak up everything around them, for better or worse. So, a well-indoctrinated child has very few, if any, doubts that what they have been learning might not be true, or even that it might be oppressive. And these well-indoctrinated children are playing with other kids. Some of them might also be children raised with a religious consideration, but some of them might not. So what do you do when those kids tell yours that they are going to hell?

When my nine-year-old son came home and told me that his friends told him that he was going to hell, he wasn't upset, so much as concerned and confused. These kids are good and they mean well, but they've been brought up in religious households. They have invited my son to church several times, telling him that he gets candy and cookies for reading Bible verses, and he has declined them every time. My son's nickname is "The Cookie Accountant," so don't mistake his motivations. My husband and I even told him that he was free to go, if he wanted to, even if it was just to spend time with his friends and indulge in a few treats. Still, he declined. He said that he just really didn't want to go, and we told him that was okay.

His friends persisted, and he kept telling them every time they asked (a few times a week), that he didn't want to go. Eventually, he had to tell them that he didn't believe in God and that he wasn't a Christian. They had trouble believing that. How could he not believe in God? Doesn't everyone believe in God? God is real. Right?

It wasn't easy for him to come out to his friends, and it was something that he had been agonizing over because he was afraid that they wouldn't want to play with him anymore if they knew that he didn't believe as they did. He asked my husband and I for advice, and we told him that he could come out and take his chances, even though we believed that it would be fine, or that he could avoid that line of questioning, or that he could even blame us, if he wanted to, and say that we didn't want him going to church. We tried to make it his decision, and we didn't want to force something that should come from him, and not from parental pressure.

Upon coming out to his friends, they accepted it easily enough, but then said, "Well, you are going to become a Christian eventually, right?" This question stuck in my mind when my son told me about the encounter. He asked them why they thought he was going to become a Christian, and that is when they said it. "If you don't become a Christian, then you are going know," with index fingers pointing ominously downward. Our son knows what hell is, and he has a basic grasp of the Christian dogma, but this concerned him. I do believe that it would give anyone at least a moment's pause, if someone they cared about declared that something bad would happen to them.

Of course, when I heard about this, the first thing out of my mouth was, "You're not going to hell." But the truth is, I don't know where we are going. I know what happens to the human body after it dies, which is the same thing that happens to every other thing after it dies. But I don't know if there is some kind of lingering sentience, or a soul. I know that there is no quantifiable evidence that something like that exists. However, my knowing or not knowing or believing or not believing won't change the experience.

"But how do you know?," he asked.

"I don't know. Nobody can really be sure because everyone who would know is dead. But let's suppose that God is real for a moment. And he made everything and all of us and he knows everything. Do you really think that God would make some of us, knowing what we would do and how we would think, and then just send us to hell? And not just a few of us, but most of us."
He thought for a moment, concern still showing on his face and then responded with a soft, dubious, "No."

"Well, God is supposed to love everyone unconditionally, right?"


"And God is supposed to be perfect. He never makes mistakes."

"Yeah, if he was real. That is what they say." Internally, I applauded ecstatically at this.

"Well, I am not perfect, and I only have one child. And I love you, no matter what, too. I would love you no matter what you did. I might not be happy about what you did, and I would try to get you to not do it again, but I would never stop loving you, and I certainly wouldn't send you someplace bad or make you suffer forever for doing something bad. I would never do that, no matter what. And If I can love you no matter what, does it really makes sense that a God that is better than me would send you to hell for any reason?"


"You aren't going to hell. Whatever happens, is going to happen to everyone else. That is just what your friends were taught by their parents and in church, and that is because that is what their parents were taught."

"Didn't you and Mark believe in that stuff?"

"Yes, we did. And then we read. And we researched. And we asked questions, and we started thinking for ourselves. And I want you to think for yourself. But I don't want you to worry about going to hell."

"I'm not worried about it anymore."

", do your homework."

It was an emotional conversation for me because I remember feeling those fears and worrying about going to hell. I don't want my son to grow up with irrational fears, and this is one less hurdle for him. Being a secular parent is difficult because you can teach your kids and counsel your kids, but in the end, they are the ones making the decisions. You can't be there every time someone offers them some off-the-wall opinion or statement, and it is scary to think that our child has to wage intellectual warfare and have the same kind of struggles that I do, but without the knowledge that I have. He has never believed, and he doesn't understand what it is like to believe. It is hard for me to explain to him that some people believe that crackers and grape juice literally turn into flesh and blood upon consumption, or that the earth is only a few thousand years old, or that there are evil things lurking among us waiting to take over our bodies or make us do terrible things. How do you tell your son that more people than don't  believe in things that are seemingly more farcical than the bogeyman?

It could be argued that we are indoctrinating our son, too. And I could see how it would look that way to someone on the other side of the argument, but we have science, facts, data, and morality supporting us. So, I take some pride in knowing that my son might make mistakes, but he will be one less man oppressing women simply because religion dictates that they are lesser creatures. And he will be one more human that understands the value of treating others with kindness without the ulterior motive of a plush afterlife. I realize that my son belongs to a small percentage of people that were not indoctrinated by their parents, and I hope to see that percentage increase as our children learn the value of humanism and put all notions of bigotry behind them. Humanity changes one generation at a time, and I believe that my son is definitely one generation better.