Sunday, March 11, 2012

A Christian Asks an Atheist...Part 1

Let's Keep it Friendly, Shall We?

Five or six years ago, I participated in a discussion about religion on an online parenting forum. In one of the discussion threads, a religious person decided to pose a series of questions to the atheists on the board in order to try to understand an atheist point of view a little bit better.   She trotted out the usual atheist tropes which so many theists seem to think are shiny, new ideas with fresh "gotcha!" potential. The one small mercy was that she didn't ask the time-tested and tiresomely repetitive, "Without a god, where do you get your morals?".

It was a useful exercise, though. My participation in that discussion spurred me to try to further flesh out my answers so I copied the theist's questions verbatim and I wrote the responses which follow.  My views have evolved since I wrote these but much of this is still true.  Looking at religion from a purely rational perspective, I still see it much as I describe below. The main difference is that I am not as soft on religion anymore.  It doesn't get the "purely rational" free pass anymore.

The fondly delusional delight I once felt about the "creativity" and "resourcefulness" of humankind has been rudely shoved aside by the reality that religion was created and continues to be used for far darker reasons than I was prepared to confront back when I was so tentatively coming out as an atheist. I was raised in a culture so thoroughly divided by religious affiliation that, while overt conservative religiosity was rare (and even frowned upon) in my birthplace, my whole identity - like that of everyone else I knew - was intimately entwined with my identification as a Catholic.  Letting go of one's identity as part of a religion community is probably the hardest part of the process of coming to terms with - and coming out as - being atheist.

I will discuss that aspect - the reaction from the community to an atheist coming out - in greater detail in another series of posts. I only mention it here because fear of rejection by my community was very much underneath the answers I wrote to these questions,  so I wanted to explain that.  It turned out to be completely justified fear, by the way, which is something which I suspect all closeted atheists know deep down, and is probably the single most powerful reason why many atheists remain silent.

Ultimately, however, the shunning and rejection I experienced after even the most carefully chosen and respectfully delivered words explaining my atheism proved to me that Greta Christina,  PZ Myers and others are absolutely correct. There is no accommodating the religious majority.  There is no language gentle enough, no phrasing respectful enough.  It is disbelief itself which enrages and threatens them.  Be "nice" or be "confrontational", the result is the same:  you're out.

With a few revisions (the more "confrontational" stuff is newer ;))   here’s the question and answer essay:

Q. I was just wondering what it's like to be an Atheist?

This is me
I can't speak for anyone else, but I think it's wonderful!  Literally. :) Every day is full of wonder for anyone who dares to look beyond a religious tradition that insists that everything one needs to know has already been written in one set of iron age books. There is a huge universe out there full of mysteries to unravel and discoveries yet to be made. 

There is a useful argument that comes up in debates about atheism that goes something like this: I believe that everyone on the planet is actually atheist and that I am not really very different from modern theists. What I mean by that statement is that most modern theists do not believe in most of the ancient gods, such as Zeus, Jupiter, Odin or Freya (though many are on the fence about Yahweh, since he is mentioned confusingly in the Jewish Bible/Christian OT:  I suspect that many modern Christians are not aware that Yahweh was actually one of a pantheon of ancient gods who was elevated to prominence by the early Jews who wrote the OT... but I digress) so in a sense current religionists are all undeniably atheist.  I totally agree with modern theists that the ancient gods and goddesses never literally existed, and I also believe that the Biblical god(s) likewise never existed. 

So, "what it's like to be an atheist" for me is very much like what it is like to be a theist, except that I disbelieve in one more god than theists do.

I do however, believe that the mythos surrounding all of these gods does point to a vital aspect of being human; I think it is reasonable to call it spirituality, for want of a better word.   I value the Bible and the Christian New Testament and all ancient/sacred books, including those which pre-date the Bible and those that came after it (such as the Qur'an and the Book of Mormon) as well as books which were excluded from the sacred canon by men (such as the Gnostic gospels), the Dead Sea scrolls and any other ancient texts which have been or have yet to be discovered.  I think they have both historical and cultural value.

Proof for god-belief!
Most of these "holy" books were written for a variety of purposes. Biblical scholars say they were composed primarily to share history and culture with future generations, but also (somewhat unfortunately) to cement various peoples' claims to superiority and entitlement, as human societies developed.  It seems to me that there is contained in these books a mixture of high-minded philosophy, rich cultural stories of deep human significance and clumsy attempts to explain the natural world.  The overwhelming focus and purpose of these books, however, is to enshrine political, social and territorial goals into some sort of permanent record, and to justify, through claims to a supernatural authority, the actions which people took to achieve these goals.

As works of human creativity, they deserve a place among our historical treasures along with the other works of art, literature and music which have survived down through the centuries.  As a blueprint for something divine,  I think - not so much.  I think all creative human endeavors point to something which is transcendentally human - this reaching toward and beyond literal understanding of the universe and our existence within it.  It is something that seems to be important to all of us, to varying degrees, whether we seek to understand through religion, philosophy, science, art or something else, and I believe we should continue to celebrate the rich history of humanity through preservation of these treasures.

The history of human development, especially the development of human societies and ethics, is fascinating to me. It's pretty much been my lifelong avocation to study religion, holy texts, and scholarly books discussing religion and its importance to human beings and the power that religious influence has exerted over societies.

It may sound corny, but being an agnostic atheist is one of the greatest joys of my life.  I feel extraordinarily privileged to have the intellectual and spiritual freedom I enjoy as an interested and enthusiastic amateur philosopher.

Q. From a Christian POV, it (atheism) is just unimaginable to me.   

I can't really help with that. It took me a long time to understand that other people don't see religion as I see it, but their POV is not unimaginable to me. It's just that, to me, modern theists seem to settle for such a small part of the entire amazing picture while I prefer the huge potential of a subject I can hardly contain in my thoughts all at once.  I cannot contain it, because the subject is too vast and splendid.

I know many people who speak of their belief in God in this manner, and I totally get what they are saying. For me, there is no conflict with this, because I consider the use of God as the word to try to describe the indescribable to be perfectly valid and historically traditional.  Agnostic writers and scholars and philosophers down through the ages used the term "God" to refer to the ineffable in spite of their unbelief.  I'm fine with that.  People today use the word "God" to refer to as many different ideations of the divine as there are believers. Where our thinking diverges is that I think of God as a mythical concept that, at best, may point toward some universal truth whereas my theist friends think of God as a literal Being. I understand that most people prefer things that way and I respect their feelings. It isn't unimaginable to me that they would feel or think like this, it is just not the way I feel or think.

Isn't That Just Ducky!

I am a water dog!  I am one with the water and the wind.

I am a creature of the sun and the sand and the surf.

I am at the beach!  I am a water dog!

Isn't that just Ducky!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Moving Day - Saturday, March 10

"Moving Day" 

To mark the occasion of our daughter's and son-in-law's move to a new apartment this week.  
Wishing you both much joy in your new home!

Friday, March 9, 2012

Isn't That Just Ducky!

I love the beach!  I have a tasty stick!

Look at the sand! Look at the surf!

I love the beach!

Isn't that just Ducky!?!

Imagine...A World Without Religion

Hitchens speaking in March, 2007.  I cannot improve on this.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Wait - Did Hell Just Freeze Over?

LOL Is that you waving the hat, Pat?

NPR reports that Pat Robertson has declared that marijuana should be legal.  According to the "two-way" blog item, Robertson has apparently been a long time advocate of legalizing and controlling marijuana use and sale just like alcohol.

 “I’ve never used marijuana and I don’t intend to, but it’s just one of those things that I think: this war on drugs just hasn’t succeeded.”

Who knew anything sensible would ever come out of that man's mouth!?!

Why I Am An Atheist Series On Pharyngula

If you have not already started reading Pharyngula for the excellent science posts - or for the searing commentary on current events,  or for the feisty take-no-prisoners commentariat - then I hope you will start to read Pharyngula for posts like these:

"I am a religious agnostic because of science, an atheist because of probability, and an anti-theist because of religion."  Matthew Cook.  United States.  

It's not going too far to say that Pharyngula - and the energetic commentariat there - was the connection to other people like me 'out there' that has given me the courage to come (mostly) out of the closet myself. PZ Myers is no-nonsense about supernatural woo of all kinds.  His witty and often stinging posts pull no punches.  The commentariat offers further bracing remarks on the topics discussed which nearly always echo what I have often thought but rarely have had the guts to say.

The challenge for the essays - some lengthy, some brief, all wonderful - was a stroke of genius.  Myers was flooded with essays.  He posts one daily and they underline for every reader just how various our stories are, yet how similar at the core.  Some of those essays nearly brought me to tears.  Many made me laugh. A few made me shudder.  In a world so overwhelmingly dominated by religious power,  it is an enormous comfort - and bracingly invigorating - to read the words of other atheist voices out there.

Atheism is about intellectual honesty.  It is simply the result of honest thought about the evidence - or rather the lack of evidence - for the existence of gods.  It is sometimes difficult to fight through the accumulated detritus of thousands of years of cultural god-belief in order to see that the presumed "evidence" does not exist,  but a hallmark of the atheist mind is the ability and the determination to do just that.  Even when there is enormous social pressure to conform, the honest mind cannot ignore the truth.

There are many other excellent blogs on, too.  I've provided links to some of my favorites on the sidebar here -->.  I have also added links to other atheist and feminist blogs which I follow. Pharyngula is already a hugely popular blog,  but if you are like me and have been slow to catch up with the world of internet communities, you may have missed it.

I think it is important to spread the word about these excellent blogs and the scores of atheist and agnostic people whom they represent.  Too many atheists and freethinkers remain silently in the closet because they feel so alone, not to mention vastly outnumbered by theists who are often very hostile to unbelievers. These bloggers send up a signal that we are not alone in this religion-dominated world. There are brave, intelligent, honest and caring people out there who have carved out spaces to discuss ideas.

Yes, we are outnumbered but we have honesty, integrity and science on our side!  It's just like David and Goliath.  (Heh.  See what I did there?)  Unlike poor David, though, a horde of intelligent, fiercely frank, real people have my back.  I'll take them over a fickle, vicious, fictitious deity any day.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Voter Photo ID - Yes, It Is a Poll Tax

This video is painful to watch.  A United States Marine,  a veteran,  arrives at his small Tennessee polling place on Super Tuesday, prepared to vote, but not prepared to produce a photo ID.  He has brought his state issued voter card and he wants to vote as he has done every election for nearly forty years.

He confronts the unassuming bureaucrats, telling them that, while he does possess photo ID, he is refusing to present it.  He is refusing to present a photo ID on principle - and that principle is that a law requiring a photo ID from citizens before permitting them to exercise their right to vote is a bad law.  It is the same thing as charging a fee. He is protesting on behalf of his fellow citizens who may be prevented from voting because of this law.

The Marine has brought a camera person with him to record his protest.  He insists that the bureaucrat to whom he is registering his protest tell him to his face - and on camera - that he, a US Marine who has served his country honorably, will not be permitted to vote unless he produces a valid photo ID.  The bureaucrat finally does so, and the Marine, barely keeping his composure,  leaves.

The Tennessee Legislature passed a new law requiring voters to present a state-approved voter ID.  While the state promised on its website to provide eligible voters with valid photo ID free of charge,  there are several impediments to access for many eligible citizens.

Poor people and people who do not have birth certificates face taxing hurdles to obtaining this state ID. Many poor people cannot afford to pay for a birth certificate (which the "free" ID requires), and a significant number of others have never had a birth certificate for various reasons usually related to extreme poverty and other social deprivations.  Some of the people who are disenfranchised by these laws are veterans who have fought for this country.

This video is not pretty.  It is not slick nor is it scripted and smoothly delivered.  This is an extraordinary citizen who is fighting for his country.  He fought for his country as a Marine and now he is fighting for justice at home.

Sir,  I salute you.

Call Them What They Are, CNN

"Diehards" unconvinced?

So,  "Super Tuesday" has come and gone.  Mitt Romney managed to net five solid victories by substantial margins in Alaska, Idaho, Massachusetts, Vermont and Virginia  while eking out a narrow victory in the battleground state of Ohio.  It seems to me that these results indicate a pretty convincing level of support across several broad categories of the national population.  Romney has now succeeded in securing primary wins in conservative states as well as progressive states, in the northeast, the southwest, the upper midwest and even the south.  That seems like a good cross-section of the country so far,  and a clear indication that, while voters are not enthusiastic , the broad spectrum support for Romney is there.

But no.  According to CNN,  the fact that four races went to other candidates (three to Rick Santorum and one to Newt Gingrich) perturbs them.  Rather than seeing the fact that there appear to be other candidates whom people consider viable as an indicator that the democracy is working and that there is, in fact, room for a diversity of viewpoints in the country, CNN wrings its hands and bleats about an imploding GOP.

Pockets of regionalized enthusiastic support for secondary candidates should be seen as supportive evidence of a working democracy, rather than as evidence that somehow "the process is breaking down".  Also, to paraphrase Mark Twain, I think reports of the Republican Party's impending demise are greatly exaggerated.

But never mind all that. I've barely written three paragraphs on this topic and I am already out of patience with it.  The thing that really prompted me to post this morning is the CNN home page above.  Yet another misleading, pandering headline from the news source that has sometimes seemed like our only option for even a chance of even-handed news coverage.  Some days, it gets really depressing.

"Diehards", CNN?  If this story was being written about any other country but the USA,  by journalists who were not fearful of their corporate overlords wrath, then this headline would have correctly read:

      Front-runner wins 6 states, but hardliners unconvinced

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

And This Is More Like It, Too!

"The who's who of who doesn't have ovaries."   Classic.

Thank you,  Stephen Colbert!

Now That's More LIke It!

"Extremely loud and incredibly gross."  It's only the truth.

Thank you,  Jon Stewart!

Isn't That Just Ducky!

Ducky looks out to sea

I am at the beach!  I am transfixed!

I feel the wind in my face, in my eyes, in my ears, in my fluffy fur.

I am at the beach and I am entranced!

Isn't that just Ducky!?!

S & P Birther Index?

The Borowitz Report had a fun piece noting with amusement that improving economic indicators coincide pretty reliably with increased activity of "birthers".  It seems that as the economy improves, desperate Republicans become agitated and more anxious to bring down the President by any means possible. When economic conditions worsen, the birthers presumably rest easier,  confident that hard times will ruin the president's prospects without any shenanigans required.

Still,  mere public questioning of Obama's citizenship is not a strong enough indicator of recovery for jittery markets anymore.  Investors now look for signs of increased intensity in the suspicions about who the President really is being tossed around before confidently predicting a sustained economic improvement.

"Mr. Dorinson was quick to add that while the surge in references to Mr. Obama being “an Islamic socialist born in a mud-hut in Nairobi” is encouraging, the economy is not out of the woods yet. We won’t be fully in a recovery until the Republicans start calling him a Wiccan."

If they start calling him an atheist we might be launched into an unprecedented economic expansion!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Gee, Rush, What Words Did You Mean to Use?

Rush Limbaugh is a contemptible pig.  Not only has he not actually apologized to law student Sandra Fluke for his outrageous and scurrilous ad hominem attack,  but in the course of his non-apology,  he has managed to further debase himself by descending into a disjointed tirade in which he blamed "the left" for making him hurl vicious abuse at the graduate student.

To read Limbaugh's mewling apologia is to peek under the veneer of humanity and behold the rabid humanoid underneath.  The notorious shock jock whimpered that the things he said to Ms. Fluke - insults flung not impulsively but repeatedly, over several days, and with increasing vulgarity - were somehow dragged out of him "against my own instincts, against my own knowledge, against everything I know to be right and wrong," by the left!  This breathtaking leap of wingnuttery is simply dumbfounding.

Rush's mouth opens.  Filthy lies spew out.  You can't explain that.

Sometimes, one can only stare at stuff like this in shocked disbelief,  but I would like to take a moment to say - Oh no you don't, you vile bottom-feeder!  How dare this unprincipled slimeball suggest that his disgusting actions were the fault of anyone but himself?  How predictably cynical and typically political of him to try to shift the spotlight which revealed his repugnant immorality off onto the (invisible, mysteriously oligarchical - yet oddly impotent!) left.  The unmitigated gall of the scoundrel!

Limbaugh howled incoherently for half an hour attempting to placate the sponsors who continue to pay for the vitriolic effusions that passes for programming in some media circles.  In the course of his raving,  he whined about his victimization by the left and somewhere in there, he also mentioned that his mistake was in using "those two words" to "describe" Ms. Fluke.

I suppose the burning question now is:  in the context of his rant against the rights of women in general - and Ms. Fluke in particular - to have affordable access to contraception,  what other words did Rush Limbaugh actually intend to use?  If the problem was simply two poor word choices,  what substitutes come to mind now that cooler heads prevail?  Gee, I wonder.  But, I won't hold my breath for an answer to that one.

Sandra Fluke,  I Salute You
Conservative CNN blogger David Frum wrote a grudgingly honest piece rightly denouncing the attack, but WTF? CNN?  Who decided to slap the title, "Are we being fair to Rush Limbaugh?" on the piece? Since when does even-handed journalism mean presenting as the victim a person who is universally recognized as having been guilty of egregious indecency toward the true "victim" in this debacle?

Seriously, WTF?

The Onion Reports on Voter Reaction to Rick Santorum

The Onion's satirical story on Rick Santorum is the sort of thing that almost seems to define Poe's Law.

My favorite quote:

"I mean, with the other guys, you can dig into their past and find at least some shred of rational thinking, even if they're cynically downplaying it now," Gallardo continued. "But I get the sense Santorum is speaking nothing but his completely unfiltered thoughts. I know it's weird to say this about a politician, but I sort of wish he were lying to my face at least a little."


I Saw What You Did There, Bill

Bill Nye the Science Guy is the bomb.  When my children were young,  his show was one of their favorites.  My younger daughter and eldest son, in particular, were at the right age at the right time to really benefit from Bill's friendly, energetic, exciting presentation of scientific concepts.  Maybe it is a coincidence, but those two are now working on science degrees in college.

The video below is one of my favorite short ones in which Bill cheerfully debunks Astrology.  It is even more fun that he mentions 2000 years ago when the Babylonians made all this stuff up.  I saw what you did there Bill, you crafty atheist, you.  I approve!

What makes it even cooler is that my daughter the Physics student shares a birthday with Bill Nye the Science Guy.  That makes them both Scorpios!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Robin Came and Sang...WTF?!?

We've enjoyed a record-breaking mild winter here in Chicagoland with temperatures well above average all season long and hardly any snow.   With no snow on the ground,  people have been looking hopefully for green shoots and other signs of an early spring on the bare brown earth.

Over the past few days I was thrilled to hear the distinctive "Cheer up!" which is the song of the American Robin*.  I had not actually spotted a little harbinger of springtime, but I know that song when I hear it.

I figured I would spot one soon enough, but I didn't expect it to be like this!

A roaring March lion blew in a few inches of snow the other day, catching this little fellow and a bunch of his equally red-breasted friends by surprise.  There was a lot of flustered, fluttery activity outside my window a little while ago.  When I realized what it was, I grabbed my camera, ran out into the snow in my slippers and snapped a picture. 

That is the kind of dedication you won't find in the average blog.

You're welcome.

* I think it is most unfortunate that the lovely robin redbreast has been assigned the unflattering scientific name Turdus migratorius.  Come on scientists, can't you do better than this?  They are the harbingers of springtime,  for pete's sake!

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Opening Night

"Checkers, 1928" 

                         In honor of the opening night of my sons' circus-themed spring musical.
 Break a leg, boys!

Mother Nature, Not God, "Chose" To Slam the Midwest

Henryville, IN  March 3, 2012

The latest natural disaster has brought to the fore something that I've always noticed but have rarely written about.  It is always difficult to talk about the insidious poison of god-belief and the harm it does to humanity, but it is doubly hard when there has been a disaster.  People don't want to hear about it and they often react very negatively to any attempt to talk about it. They feel that the atheist who decries the talk of gods during a crisis is capitalizing on the emergency to "proselytize" for atheism.

Yet, capitalizing on the crisis to proselytize god-belief is exactly what is already happening, and what happens every single time there is a natural disaster or human crisis of any sort. Theists use disasters to underline the privileged position of theism in society by inserting prayers and petitions to "God" into public activities around the crisis but, even more perniciously, they use disasters to further entrench irrational belief in the minds of a traumatized and psychologically vulnerable populace.

"It's a blessing. We praise God (that no one was hurt)"

"Thank God (few students were at school when the tornado hit), or they all would have been gone."

What is more, this pushing of god-belief is nearly always coupled with phrasing which disrespects real heroism and human effort, thus displacing the gratitude which rightly belongs to human beings who have actually taken action - who have actually provided real help - and allowing it to dissipate pointlessly into the "thank god" ether.  Worst of all, theists rarely miss the opportunity to reinforce religious misogyny and bigotry in the vulnerable psyches of people who are grappling with a terrible situation.

I found remarks by Mitch Daniels - Governor of Indiana and fervently conservative Christian - both offensive and revealing,  especially juxtaposed so closely with those of theists thanking "God" for the good luck of not being the ones killed in the disaster.   Referring to the devastating storms of March 2, 2012,  the governor repeatedly blamed them on "Mother Nature" throughout the day.  Here and here are some news articles where the governor is quoted doing this on several different occasions.  The remark most packed with WTF?,  in my view,  was this:
Ferocious Mother Nature
"I am constantly amazed by both the unpredictability and the ferocity that Mother Nature can unleash, when she chooses to,"  Governor Mitch Daniels, Indiana. 

Those damned females!  Even female gods can't be trusted not to make "choices" which cause death and destruction!  And don't get him started on how unpredictable and ferocious that female anger can be. 

There is so much to talk about here that I hardly know where to begin.  This quote is a tiny illustration of a topic that is so huge that there is no way it can be covered in one post.  I expect that quotes like this, which crop up with depressing frequency in our god-soaked culture,  will be an ongoing source of grim inspiration for countless posts on religious misogyny,  privileging of theism,  irrational thinking, displacement of natural human feelings and ideas, anti-choice ideology, bigotry, homophobia, racism... well, you get the idea.

For starters, let me try to zero in on the problems with the quote above, as briefly as possible.

(One of?) The Loving Creator (s)
Christians claim to believe in only one god.  Well, actually three gods.  But they claim that those three do not count as three gods, by virtue of a clever fourth century patch called the doctrine of the Trinity established at the Council of Nicea in 325 CE.  Somewhere along the line, religionists decided that monotheism was a superior form of religion to polytheism.  All those saints and extra special Biblical figures (Ba'al, Moses, Mary, etc) who perform magical god-like miracles, though suspiciously like demi-gods in a polytheistic pantheon, are not formally recognized as gods by believers. 

So, the general claim of Christianity is that it is a monotheistic religion.  Except of course, there is Satan who is alleged to have nearly as much god-like power to do evil as God himself has to do "good". There is a lot of overlap there, too, because Satan is often credited with doing things that seem good to trick believers, while God is often cited as the power behind many terrible events (but always for loving reasons, of course).  It is pretty confusing in the theist world.
Mother Nature the un-goddess

But if there are no other gods but the Triune God why, then, do theists like Governor Daniels say foolish things like "once again Mother Nature has dealt harshly with Indiana" ?  Apparently,  when random natural phenomena occur -  as long as the theist majority decides not to ascribe the events to judgement by an angry god - there is unspoken agreement that those events can comfortably be attributed to other supernatural forces.  Forces that are not gods, you understand, but other anthropomorphous, supernatural beings.

With god-like powers.


There is clearly a problem of unacknowledged polytheism here,  not to mention the privileging of the majority religion's god over less favored gods.  "God" is praised and credited with saving lives in the midst of destruction, while "Mother Nature" is roundly blamed for causing the destruction.

The other problems are more difficult to untangle from the mess of misogyny,  anti-choice ideology and polytheism that is all bundled up in these remarks by the Indiana governor.  Some people will say that it is too much of a stretch to hear misogyny and anti-choice ideology in a remark about a devastating natural disaster, but I don't think it is.  I think that reinforcing negative feelings and othering actually is the point of making remarks like that at a time like this. 

I do not think it is mere coincidence that the supernatural force to which disasters like this are most commonly attributed is female.  I do not think it is an accident that Mother Nature is characterized as both "unpredictable" and "ferocious".  I do not think it was merely an odd choice of words to say that Mother Nature can unleash death and destruction "when she chooses to".

I think that quote contains more misogynist baggage than I have seen packed into so few words in a very long time.  Much of it is probably unconscious.  The fear of female anger,  the casual attribution of unpredictable rages to a female source and the words which are so commonly used to derogatorily describe women are often so deeply and unconsciously infused in our society's language and cultural narratives that to point them out is often dismissed as oversensitivity.

But the suggestion that Friday's disaster was not a random occurrence in nature but the choice of a ferocious and unpredictable female supernatural power is a signal that the unconscious beliefs behind a remark like this are something deeper and more dangerous.

This is something that needs to be discussed. 

I want to send my sympathy and best wishes out to the people in Indiana, Kentucky,  Ohio,  Tennessee and Alabama who are dealing with the aftermath of yesterday's tornado outbreak in the USA.  Yesterday was a terrible day for anyone unlucky enough to have been in the path of the destructive storm system which swept across the continent.   Like so many other Americans,  I kept an eye on the news and worried about family and friends in the path of the storms.  I understand that rescue operations began immediately and clean up crews are already on the ground in the hardest hit areas.  I am thankful for all of the people in those communities - rescue workers,  emergency medical personnel and many other professionals and volunteers - who have rushed to help their fellow humans during this emergency. The Red Cross has launched a huge tornado disaster relief effort.  Here is a link to their site where people can make donations toward providing real help for people affected by the disaster.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Isn't That Just Ducky!

I have a new ball!  I'm so excited!

I'm going on a trip tomorrow!  I'm going to the beach!  I'm so excited!

I'm going to play with my new beach ball.  Wait a minute ... this ball is big!  It is bigger than me!

Rawwwrrrrr.  Yip!  Rwr - runrunrunrunrunrunrun - belly roll! - run run run run run run   run

I have a new ball!  I'm going to the beach!  I'm so excited!

Isn't that just Ducky!

Barmy Bible Study - Literalism 101

Many Christians - especially fundamentalist Christians - make time every day to read the Bible. They earnestly desire to gain insight and a depth of understanding through their study. But there is a notable problem: all of that reading does not seem to produce the results that dedicated study usually produces. What I mean is that believers' constant reading and studying of their religious text never seems to result in actual understanding of what the Bible is communicating to them.

Most people, upon setting themselves the task of reading a text with the sincere intention of understanding it, seem capable of grasping the meaning of the words they are reading. It can be more challenging to understand allegorical accounts or mythology or dense writing full of metaphors and hidden meanings of course, but still. A sincere reader, devoting daily effort to the task, surely would seem to be in a position to succeed? One would think.

More to the point, reading a text with no mythology, allegory or metaphors involved, but simply the literal truth as revealed by a supremely omniscient, omnipotent god ought to be much easier and straightforward. The god has revealed the truth, and in its omnipotent way has surely revealed it in a form its worshipers will be able to understand. It ought to be the easiest thing imaginable, this exchange of holy writ between a believer and the all-loving god whose only wish is to welcome that believer into its presence. The believer must surely only need to read the words to understand their unambiguous meaning. 

And yet, no! That does not seem to be the case at all for Bible-believers when they read the Bible. I don't think it is because Bible-believers are any less intelligent than other people. Quite the opposite,  in fact. I am convinced that it probably is their intelligence which prevents them from grasping the literal Truth™ contained inside the Good Book™. Well that, and what remains of their human empathy after a really thorough religious upbringing. Understanding the Good Book™ requires nothing but Faith™ - demands it,  really - but even the most fervently Faithful are usually unable to completely overcome their innate rationality and humanity in order to make sense of it.

For Faith™commands that round is flat, evil is good, mythology is science and hate is love. The taxonomy of Faith means Opposite Day, every day, and that fundamental lie is very difficult to fix fast in an intelligent believer's brain. Bible belief demands that the Faithful call cruelty kindness, the profane holy and falsehood truth. The remnants of empathy and rationality inside a believer's brain recoil in horror from this affront to human decency and dignity. As a defensive response, I suspect the believer is rendered incapable of understanding the starkly simple words of Holy Scripture.

Or, it could simply be a case of failure of imagination. Either way, I have decided to step in to help.

Like all atheists, I am uninfected by Faith™ (not to be confused with faith, of which I have as ample a supply as the next person). I do not experience the type of cognitive dissonance that is experienced by a true believer. I know the Bible is all mythology and propaganda - an old-fashioned handbook for crowd control - and so I have no expectation at all that anything in there is literally true;  no internal struggle between what I know to be false, immoral and horrific but which a religion insists I call true,  moral and beautiful. When one is thus unencumbered, the verses in the Bible can be plainly understood.

In the coming weeks, I am planning to do my part for society by holding weekly Bible Study classes for adults* right here on my blog.   Morally conflicted Bible-believers' troubles are over! I intend to illuminate for them, in simple prose, what it is that their Holy Bible is actually saying. 

Time slot will be Wednesday evening  (the usual Bible study time at the local megachurches,  if I remember correctly)  for as long as I can stand it necessary. Be sure to bring a copy of your Bible!  Suggested text for the class is below,  but really - any old Bible will do.

Link to Class Text

*Classes restricted to age 12 and older.  The subject matter in the Bible is not appropriate for children.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

I Don't Think So, Your Holiness

I came across this cartoon the other day while looking for something else,  and although it was created in response to remarks the Pope made in 2010,  it highlights an ongoing source of frustration to atheists,  both timid and bold.

Bearing in mind that ninth commandment from the Biblical old testament,  I am sure Pope Benedict was absolutely truthful when he declared that "atheism has led to the greatest forms of cruelty and violations of justice" in history.  As this cartoon illustrates,  if it had not been for atheism, there would have been no crusades, no Inquisition,  no 9/11,  no.....

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Isn't That Just Ducky!

Ready for a lap day nap.
It is lap day,  and I have found a nice one to snuggle down on for a nap!

If I just lie here very quietly, she won't notice me.

Wait, what?  It's leap day?   Haha!   Every day is leap day for me!

Isn't that just Ducky!

Random Capitalization: What's Up With That?

Have you ever noticed how evangelicals and fundamentalists tend to randomly sprinkle capitalized non-proper nouns into their written nonsense?

" persecuted because I stand up for my Beliefs! I am a Strong Christian, a Bible-believing Warrior for Christ!  I am not of the World, but none of those Atheist understand my Worldview.  They cannot know what I am talking about anyways..."

Sigh.  If you are unfortunate enough to be caught in a real life conversation about the Worldview of fundamentalists (did you see what I did there? ;-)),  you can even detect the random capitalization in the word balloons above their heads via inflections in their tones as they say certain words.

It's like they have a secret language they learn at Christian Boot Camp.

What's up with that, anyway?

Proselytizing Where?!

(This essay was first published in an older blog in 2004 before Christian fundamentalism cured me of religion.)-->

I used to have no problem with religion.  I am a regular (moderate, mostly cultural) Catholic church-goer myself.  I understand how important it is to most people to belong to a religious community.  Religion is important to a lot of people,  but something about the insistent fervor of public religiosity in the past few years is disturbing.   As a private obsession, extreme religiosity is an individual's personal business,  but when people start forcing their religious obsessions on the general public, I find that I object.  A lot.

Today, I had an appointment with a new eye doctor.  In his waiting room there was only one choice of reading material: the Bible.  I've been noticing Bibles in business settings a lot lately - in dentist and orthodontist offices,  too - so I wasn't surprised to see one there. It was the absence of any other type of reading material at all that seemed a little weird.  Not to mention that it seemed rather pointed.  I suppose there are people who like to read Bible verses while waiting for an eye exam or a teeth cleaning.  I've never given it much thought before,  but I felt like I was being forced to think about it today. 

Truly Ice Cold and Refreshing!

I have a few household things to take care of before I can finish the posts I am working on today.  So, for your viewing and listening pleasure I am linking to a great little NPR Morning Edition piece on iceberg beer made in Quidi Vidi*, Newfoundland**.   These brewers are putting the fun back in Newfoundland!

Quidi Vidi Brewing Co.

As a public service -  not to mention to make it worthwhile for people to read my blog;  hey,  it's educational! - readers should know that it is still much too early for this season's icebergs to be present off the southeast coast of Newfoundland.  They are rarely sighted as far south as St. John's (and Quidi Vidi is in that same area) until late April, May and June.  During those months the place is lousy with them.

Hey, it is a long float from Greenland, even with the assistance of the Labrador Current!

Now,  go and tell all your friends!  Not only are you now more knowledgable about a place that is universally mistaken for the mythical New Finland,  but you can tell them about delicious ice cold beer (for reals!)!

* Yes, the reporter does pronounce "Quidi Vidi" correctly, when she says what sounds like Kiddy Viddy.
** No, the reporter does not pronounce "Newfoundland" or "Newfoundlanders" correctly when she says what sounds like Newfinlin.  Newfoundland sort of rhymes with understand, and the "found" is pronounced "fun".  So  Newfunland  is the correct way to pronounce the name of this amazing place.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Why Are So Many Atheists Silent?

The Friendly Atheist discusses just one example of the hard reality for openly atheist people in the world.  A bus advertising campaign to let atheists know that groups of like-minded people actually exist made headlines last year in the UK and in North America.  There was a furor as angry religious groups protested that the atheist ads should be banned because they were "offensive".  Here is one of the ads:

Several weeks ago,  psychologist Richard Wade hypothesized that the reason why advertising campaigns for secular, humanist and atheist groups have sparked such heated "controversy"  - both in the real world where the ads are displayed and on the interweb where they have been discussed - is not because the ads themselves display any objectively "offensive" content,  but because the very idea that atheists exist at all and dare to make that existence known is what offends the religious majority.

To test this hypothesis,  Richard challenged atheists to come up with an ad that is as inoffensive as possible,  simply signing it "brought to you by local atheist group" or similar.  He provided some helpful (photoshopped :)) examples like this one:

In the ensuing discussion, some people pointed out the depressing fact that even an inoffensive billboard featuring puppies would likely be twisted by religious critics into something else.   Most likely any attempt at making an obviously inoffensive, appealing billboard would be decried as yet another "example" of atheist sarcasm or trickery.

The NEPA Freethought Society seems to have agreed with this concern and in an attempt to avoid any misunderstanding, they submitted the billboard design below:

It merely names their group.  And yet,  COLTS (the County of Lackawanna Transit System (COLTS) in Pennsylvania) rejected the ad.  The same bus company runs regular ads for local religious groups and churches,  but refused to accept an ad from an atheist group which simply says "Atheists."

Is it any wonder that there are so few people who are openly atheist in a culture which rejects the very notion of our existence?  A recently published study found that the most distrusted group in America is atheists - we are considered even less trustworthy than rapists in some circumstances!  A New York Times poll taken in 2007 shows that the most unelectable group in the country is - you guessed it - atheists.  A whopping 63% of people polled said they would not vote for anyone who does not believe in a god.

But never mind polls and studies (after all,  who ever believes that musty, dusty studies and research have any bearing on their reality?).  In spite of this evidence of real and growing discrimination against atheists,  any theist will tell you that there is no problem at all for atheists in our culture.  More important,  if the damned atheists would only shut up and stop being so arrogant and pushy,  there would be far less division and social unrest right now! 

Atheists are so universally reviled that even an American president,  representative of all* of the citizens of the United States,  felt free to publicly castigate atheists.  We are the one group that anyone can discriminate against with impunity.  Atheists are accused of being arrogant,  pushy,  divisive and responsible for all the ills in the world:  why would any reasonable person be eager to come out and be plastered with all of these labels?

* According to George H W Bush, atheists should not rightly be citizens.  See what he did there?

Santorum's Un-Americanism Should Make Us All Queasy

Slate has an article online discussing Rick Santorum's now infamous remarks last Sunday on ABC's This Week.  It is well worth reading.  This man is appalling.  With his "anti" stance on so many solid American values,  such as the separation of church and state,  he is sounding distinctly un-American.

The comments below it are a little worrying,  but we all have to get used to that eventually, don't we?  Amazing how remarks that were almost unimaginable (among sane people, at least) are now an everyday occurrence, at least on the internet.

But even more worrying,  the Catholic Santorum shares the determination of fundamentalist, dominionist Protestant Christians to transform the United States into a Bible-based Christian nation answerable only to God. Where have we seen theocracy like this before? Oh yes.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Thursday, November 3, 2011

666 Words

Just had to make a note of the fact that I just checked the word count for my stalled Nanowrimo work-in-progress,  and it is 666.  That is just too funny.  If only I were superstitious,  I could see this as a sign that my soon to be completed Mystery novel manuscript (!) will be devilishly clever and demonically thrilling.  Mwa-hahahahahahahaaaaaaaa!

Or not.  Most likely not. Damn.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Never-Ending Abortion Debate

(Another older post, which is depressingly even more appropriate today than it was 6 years ago )

I wonder what one of the so-called "pro-life/pro-capital punishment" people would feel if a scenario like this were to happen:  their own precious daughter is brutally raped and beaten by a vicious, murderous, serial rapist/murderer.  Another of their children is also raped and murdered in the same attack.  The surviving daughter, age 13, is discovered to be pregnant as she lies in hospital recovering from the vicious attack.  An already high risk situation (due to her extreme youth and her injuries) is exacerbated by her diabetes.  The doctors tell the parents that to continue the pregnancy will kill their daughter.  Protesters line up outside to tell them that this man's seed has the right to "live" inside their own precious innocent daughter,  even though the attempt to continue the pregnancy will kill her and the potential baby.  The rapist/murderer is caught and sent to death row....sneering all the while that he can "live on" in the child he has planted in his victim.

Of course, they will bleat on about how with a god's help they would endure.  But my guess is that their rage at the killer (and their easy ability to watch him go to the death chamber)  would rise to the fore and they would realize that to force the pregnancy on their daughter would be to victimize her again.

Certainly, this is an extreme example (though it could happen).  But sometimes an extreme example helps draw clearer, simpler lines around the issues -  something we sadly seem to need these days.

The point is,  if we allow the government to outlaw abortion for any reason, we allow the government to force women to become slaves to their biology...whether their pregnancies result from carelessness, forced sex, violence, incest or whatever.  Men,  on the other hand,  suffer no consequences at all for their lapses in judgement,  or even from their brutality (when it is rape)  unless they are caught and unless the charges can be made to stick (which is all too rare).  An anti-abortion law,  however,  would ensure that woman can never escape the judgement and interference of society.

Wait.  Could that actually be the point?  As some computer people I am acquainted with sometimes say,  is that actually a "feature" and not a "bug"?

Some societies (like extreme Islamist ones) are fine with laws which subjugate women almost totally to the control of men (and most conspicuously through denial of reproductive rights)...they seem to glory in the subjugation and torture of women.  Is that what we want here, I wonder?

 People who want to believe the lie that this country was founded upon "Christian" or "Biblical" principles should be very careful about what they are wishing was true.  Fundamentalist adherence to the Bible's 'laws' would be very much like sharia law in fundamentalist Islamist societies: Brutally harsh,  especially on women.

 Perhaps some people actually do relish and look forward to a fundamentalist society in America where women are subjugated to the extent that they were in Afghanistan under the Taliban.  However,  I think (or is that really only hope?) even most fundamentalist Christians would not look forward to such a prospect.  Yet,  they work hard to bring about the circumstances under which such a society could be easily ushered in.  I believe that the fundamentalist movement in America is heading in that direction...women are looked upon in these churches as mere vessels to carry babies.  Their rights and their needs are totally subjugated,  in this religious thinking,  to the welfare of zygotes.  When people start to embrace that sort of ideology,  we are a short walk from a taliban culture here.

Abortion Again...Adoption?

 (This post was originally written in 2005.  It was in response to a heated argument between anti-abortion and pro-choice people I knew.  My own contributions to the debate made even the nominally "pro-choice" theists I had once counted among my friends turn on me angrily.  My crime?  Being "mean" by calling so-called "pro-lifers" hypocritical.   Sadly,  the topic has taken on even more urgency with the recent wave of anti-rights legislation)

So, the debate rages on.  Now we get down to the nitty gritty.  No holds barred.  There's been discussion ad nauseum about what pregnant women should do.  Now I want to ask, what should we as a society do?

  What about adoption?  People bring it up all the time as a viable alternative to abortion for "these women" who supposedly use abortion as a carefree method of "birth control".  But what of it?  How many people really are prepared to put their actions where their mouths are?  Step up to the plate and adopt?  And I don't mean perfect babies from white Christian mothers who have "sinned", either.

Leaving aside for now the judgement implicit in the criticism of women having sex, what about this assumption that abortion is casually treated as an easy form of "birth control"?  Do any of the people having this debate have any idea how a significant percentage of young women in the western world really live?  While some women may indeed use abortion in a relatively "casual" way (if an invasive and uncomfortable procedure can ever be chosen "casually"),  there are many for whom it is a desperate last resort, and removing choice to punish the former could destroy the last hope of the latter.  I know that some must understand the reality, but I wonder how much people really think about this? 

 For too many women, pregnancies are not in the least chosen.  Pregnancy is often forced upon them, and then the consequences are borne alone by the woman.  I say, what about her life?  Doesn't her life count, too? Funny how there's not a lot of sympathy for young women, nor respect for their lives (women who were once babies themselves, I would like to point out).

For some women, a forced pregnancy and subsequent motherhood in appalling circumstances really is life threatening, and at the very least,  ends all chance of any escape from a life of constant,  grinding poverty,  abuse and misery.  This is not an abstinence issue and not even a birth control issue for many women.  I think that the continued insistence on that theme is not only incorrect,  but dishonest and self-serving.  How easy to ignore the true plight of so many women by painting this as a promiscuity issue...that lets everyone off the hook very nicely!  Except, of course,  the invisible thousands of women who really bear the burden of our society's hypocrisy and cruelty to others,  all under the cozy banner of "christian morality".

 I believe that so-called 'pro-lifers' who object to abortion and yet are not willing to adopt or do much else to bring about social change in this country or other countries, (except to condemn the behaviour of other people) have no business foisting their opinions on others.  God forbid that their views become law and could thus legally be foisted on everyone!  (Update: see Mississippi's initiative #26 coming soon to a legislature near you).

Why should a self-proclaimed "pro-lifer" not be respected (by me, at least) for holding these views while not being willing to adopt ANY child (crack babies, disabled babies, babies of color, boys, sibling groups, etc etc) nor to work for real social change?  Because I believe that such grandstanding is cheap,  easy self-righteousness.  It is very easy for people to stand around feeling smugly superior and holier than thou,  saying what others ought to do,  when they are never in any way going to have to shoulder the burden that their so-called "moral values" would force upon others.  I think people are hypocrites if they say they are "pro-life" but only mean anti-abortion, and in fact, make no effort whatesoever to protect all lives or to respect the lives of young women in appalling circumstances or make any effort whatsoever to work for the social change which could actually eventually bring about the end of abortion.

To pick one aspect of life...pre-natal life--and elevate its importance above the importance of other lives makes no sense to me.  It is not a "pro-life" stance, in my opinion.  It is simply an anti-abortion stance.

 People who are truly good and who really care about life,  care about all life (or at least all human life), not just the cute little babies.  The real problem is that the long,  hard,  sweaty,  dirty,  dangerous and frustrating job of truly helping women through years and years of systemic poverty,  violence and other social disadvantages is just not that quick, easy or attractive.  It feels very nice and righteous to most people to say, "Oh we don't want abortion.  We all love little babies."  But abortion can often be the only way out of a horrible situation for a woman,  or the only way to prevent becoming trapped in an even more horrific life situation.  People who sincerely want abortion to end would be working hard to end the social problems which make abortion the only awful way out for too many young women.

These so-called "pro-lifers" are conspicuously absent from the trenches of social work,  yet they have just enough energy and time to rally and rage against abortion?  That's a pretty easy out,  in my opinion.

 The way to stop abortion is to improve life for all,  even the poor and disadvantaged.  But that takes too much work, so most people (not all) who call themselves "pro-lifers" just opt to be anti-abortion, imply or say outright that abortion is being used as birth control by promiscuous women, and congratulate themselves on having done their Christian duty.  Oddly enough, it is the pro-choice people who are most highly represented in the fields which are striving to end the social problems which perpetuate the demand for abortions;  and the pro-choice people who work most tirelessly to bring about the real end of abortion.

I recognize that most people have the best intentions and are good people.  But claiming we surely would offer to adopt the child of a friend or relative (though less than 2% of people actually do) is not the only thing I am talking about.  I'm talking about adopting a "crack" baby,  a child with severe mental retardation,  a sibling pair, from unknown backgrounds, from different races.  Whether or not we as individuals like to believe that we would do it, we don't.  Whether the majority of pro-lifers would also like to claim that they would do it...they don't.  Adoption statistics and the bulging foster rolls attest to this ugly and undeniable fact.  I know we all want to be good people,  and probably are good people, but, in my opinion, far too many people want to claim "goodness" for spouting a lot of virtuous-sounding claptrap with consequences that they will never personally have to face.

Plenty of people have "helped" in lots of ways, too.  They virtuously support and promote pregnancy hot lines and clinics where the young woman is presented with a teddy bear and congratulations upon receiving the positive pregnancy test result.  Then, they turn a deliberately blind eye to whatever circumstances may be making her desperate and alone and make her feel even more isolated and alone in her time of need.  "Helping" by donating baby items and money to "pro-life" causes, while conveniently ignoring that babies become toddlers and grow up,  long after these "good" people have moved on to the next anti-abortion rally.  I would bet that most people care enough about people to "help" whenever they conveniently can.  And most people forget about other people when it is not convenient - which is most of the time.

There are people who can and do adopt high risk babies, and obviously many people cannot and should not adopt high risk babies.  That should not stop us from working in other ways to resolve the social issues which result in so many of these children in foster care.  What is stopping us from doing that,  if abortion is such a concern?  Are the problems of the world not our concern?  Is it enough to look after our own families and not our place to try to solve the problems of others?  Do Christians ever ask themselves these questions?   I don't know where Abel is, Lord, Am I my brother's keeper?

I doubt that many of us spend much time in the toughest parts of town, week after week (let alone day after day!) babysitting for welfare moms so that they can get jobs.  I doubt many of us spend a lot of time at shelters,  volunteering on a daily or weekly basis to try to help battered women and their children patch together the shattered pieces of their lives,  find jobs,  find safe housing and then to follow them up every day and then weekly and then monthly and then through the inevitable return to the shelter after they have been tracked down yet again by an abusive partner or gang....not many of us have held a young woman through the DTs and also cared for her 4 young children at the same time in a cockroach-infested apartment with no power or telephone.

Not many of us "good" people really do this or in fact ever even think about it. We'd rather think this is a very rare thing, and that people in these situations have somehow brought it on themselves, and anyway the government takes care of it.  At best, most of us gather up a bunch of used clothes to drop off once or twice a year,  contribute money or canned goods to the food bank and sweep by as quickly as possible in our cars with the doors locked on the rare occasions that we find ourselves on the "wrong side of the tracks".

Yet, we are all happy to spout words like, "Oh, I would never have an abortion no matter what!"...while most of us are surrounded by loving family,  or have a loving partner or at least a circle of friends/church or whatever to support us in this noble decision.  How easy it is to feel this way when support is all around us!  How easy to condemn women who make a different choice when we refuse to know what their lives are really like!  How easy it is for us to feel superior and maternal and givers/protectors of LIFE,  while we loudly support a viewpoint which advocates heaping hardship on others and destroying lives, which we care nothing about.

In my opinion, what is immoral is advocating the continuation of the erosion of women's abortion rights without first working tirelessly and getting dirty in the trenches to improve conditions for the vast majority of desperate women who must resort to abortion.  If there was a concerted effort by all pro-lifers for, say, 10 years to get out into the poorest neighborhoods and work, take their children with them and play with the children of the drug addicts and prostitutes and victims of abuse and homeless...and perhaps offer them jobs in their businesses and homes...and if they were willing to open their eyes and put their time and effort into improving conditions of LIFE for everyone their anti-abortion efforts now affect,  then I would have respect for them.  Then, I'd join with them in their fight to end abortion. (Update:  Six years later, after countless anti-choice legislative feints and thrusts, endless evidence of the rampant misogyny and dehumanization of women in western culture, I must revise this last statement to read:  "Even so,  I will never join them in their fight to criminalize abortion.")

Once the world for the poorest and the least privileged in our society,  men and women and children alike,  becomes a place where some hopes and dreams and possibilities can finally survive and flourish,  then I think the time will come when we as a society can live up to the ideal of rare or non-existent abortion.  But,  unless we all are going to truly and actively work for a better,  more just society,  then limiting the rights and choices of the poorest and most disadvantaged will only exacerbate and continue the cycle of poverty and misery.

 This is not something that directly affects the most outspoken pro-lifers.  I think it is cowardly for men who will never face these consequences at all,  and unseemly for women who have protection and comforts,  to ever presume to judge or to imagine for one second that their opinions or their "beliefs" should ever ever hold sway over the lives of anyone but themselves.

And one final word. Most people who trumpet the anti-choice viewpoint take pains to say that they do not judge women who must choose abortion,  and that they do not try to foist their opinions or beliefs on other people, yet they do. They most certainly do. They protest in the streets - interrupting traffic and spreading misinformation where passersby cannot avoid it,  they harrass young women who seek abortions at clinics and they vote for candidates who campaign on a platform promising to work to deny abortion rights to women.

In my view, that is judgmental and very intentionally planning,  through political clout,  to impose a belief system on others. A surprisingly high percentage of voters in the 2004 elections told poll-takers that they voted for certain candidates specifically because the candidates had vowed to get abortion banned. In a free country, they have the right to vote for someone who will work to get something they want made into law.  However, to vote like this and then to declare that one is not trying to foist one's religious or moral opinions on others is contradictory and hypocritical.

Most of the people who have been the most outspoken against abortion rights have never faced the challenges faced by many women in this country,  and they frankly do not seem to care about these women's lives.  They are not "pro-life" because they make no effort to work to improve lives but instead opt for the easier path of pretending to a morality which is empty and meaningless in the face of the human suffering which surrounds them,  but for which they seem to be utterly lacking in compassion.  From the relative comfort and security of their lives,  they condemn others.

The people who are in the trenches really dealing with the problems,  and not just handing out baby baskets to teens in high schools, or cuddling babies in the nursery...the ones who follow up on those babies in 5, 10, 15 years and watch the horror of their lives...and the horror of their mothers' lives....these people,  whom I think are the really moral and good people, say:

 Give women a choice. Keep abortion legal.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

I Am Atheist

Over the years, I've written a few essays entitled "Why I am an Atheist"  or something along the same lines,  but after making numerous attempts to start the one to answer PZ Myers' challenge,  I realized that I am no longer comfortable with that phrasing to describe myself.  Not because it is not useful and not because I do not like it (I do -  and I think those essays are enormously helpful and inspiring),  but because my own earlier efforts under that very title were so embarrassingly accommodationist,  so desperate to be accepted (and therefore so dishonestly flattering to theists),  that I simply must do something a little different now. 

The road from shrinking, fearful accommodationism to bold, brave honesty has been rocky, lonely and often frightening.  I am still standing in the shadows at the last turn in the path,  uncertain if I am ready to step out into the light.  But,  I am certain that my days of explaining myself and begging the community to understand and accept me are over.  I may quietly reveal my true thoughts to a few trusted friends and family members or I may choose to remain silent for a few more years,  even with them.  Whatever I do say, however, will be stated with simple positivity. 

I am atheist. 

I am female, I am someone's mother, wife, sister, friend.  I think, I write, I breathe.  I am atheist.

Being atheist is just one part of who I am,  and it is only significant because of the culture in which we live.  Humanity's obsession with deities makes an outlier of one who does not share the obsession.  And outliers make the majority feel uneasy.  Atheism is far more significant and noteworthy to theists than to atheists,  I think,  and the constant cultural pressure to justify our apostasy - our freedom from god-obsession - mostly explains our need for some sort of community with other atheists.  We are not really "like-minded";  we are as individual and varied in our interests and our philosophies as theists are.  What we share is that we are not theists.  But,  in this religion-cursed world that is a huge thing.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

PZ Myers Issues a Challenge!

PZ Myers has thrown down the challenge and I am going to take it up!

One of the first posts I copied into this blog was a long essay from a much older blog called, "Why I am a Humanist".  In fact,  the original title was "Why I am an Atheist Agnostic",  but 5-10 years ago (long before I discovered Pharyngula and Friendly Atheist and the whole amazing blogosphere of freethought), I was still very intimidated by the possible fallout I (and worse, my family) might experience if I expressed my position on religion in unambiguous terms.  So, I changed the title to "Why I am a Humanist".  Less offensive to theists,  you understand.

In the essay,  I alluded to the unhappy confrontations that I had experienced simply by expressing the mildest of agnostic views.  In a discussion that had been billed as a respectful (there were TOS!  ha) discussion of world religions and philosophy - including atheism and agnosticism -  the reality was that I found myself attacked, demonized and finally ostracized by a shocking number of people,  a few of whom I had previously considered friends.

I have lived thousands of miles from my birthplace and extended family for many years, and had recently moved to a community which is saturated with religiosity and it is not overstating the case to say that,  after that discussion (my "coming out" as atheist),  I suddenly became aware of my vulnerability and alienation. With no support network around me or my family,  I began to understand for the first time the very real concerns of unpopular minorities.  The real and constant cost of being "other".  It was bad enough that I might risk ostracism myself,  but - in a culture which demands conformity to a theistic worldview - it suddenly dawned upon me that expressing my opinions openly could bring unpleasant consequences upon my partner and children.

Moderates scoff at the notion that there is very real and very intimidating pressure to conform to a Christian worldview in this culture,  but the rash of visits from proselytizers who singled out our house from all others in the neighborhood following that miserable exchange convinces me otherwise.  That would be in addition to the egging of our house and the discovery of religious junk (plastic jesuses, prayer bracelets, etc)  pushed into the dirt in the front garden.  The evidence may be circumstantial, but coupled with the pervasive, overwhelming religiosity all over town ("Salvation" music in the grocery store;  Xian "rock" blasting from outdoor speakers at the gas station, religious colouring books at the family dentist's),  I am inclined to think it was not all coincidental.  If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, etc. 

Or, I could be paranoid.  Quite possible.  The reaction I got when I came out among "friends" in a safe forum was so shockingly negative,  the rejection so complete,  that I was quite disturbed about it for several months.  Could be that something became unhinged in me.  Around that same time, my (then) 12 year old was grilled by the father of a neighborhood friend about his beliefs (!) and then lectured on the "lie" of evolution and the "truth" of biblical creationism.  Perhaps the chill I felt over a 40 year old man coming outside to harrass a 12 year old child about religion was simply my own paranoia.  Perhaps that religious zealot was behaving perfectly normally and I was overreacting.

Nah.  Not bloody likely.  Worried about the impact on my family? Yes indeed.  And in that respect,  I believe that my concerns were (and still are) well-founded.  You see,  it really is true sometimes that just because you feel paranoid doesn't mean they are not out to get you!  ;-)

So,  after the stunning attack that I experienced (and in response to the astonishment expressed by those friends who did not attack me but were nevertheless surprised and disturbed to learn of my atheism),  I wrote a blog post (reposted here as "Why I am a Humanist") in which I attempted to honestly explain my thoughts on religion and philosophy of life,  but without "offending" any theist friends or acquaintances.  The result was predictably accommodationist and, even more miserably, almost apologetic.

I would like to think that it was not strictly dishonest,  because in that post I described many of the things I truthfully felt in the (oblivious!) younger decades of my life,  but the tone and the tortuous elaboration betrays my inner battle between the (suddenly crystal clear!) truth and the patchwork of intellectual accommodations I had used during my life in order to allow myself to continue to "belong" to the church tradition into which I was born.  In the editing process,  fearing that my use of "they" to denote theists might anger those who read it,  I went back and rewrote everything to include myself,  writing "we".  That was not honest,  because while I did participate in the religious culture for many years,  I was never a believer in the same sense that I now understand theists to mean by "believer".

I spoke about the dark side of religion,  but I was ever so careful to balance those remarks with glowing praise for the "wonderful creativity" of human tribes in developing this psychological tool for increasing their own security and comfort (while avoiding explicitly mentioning the obvious continuation of that thought:  "at the expense of the security and comfort of other tribes and outliers").  I waxed poetic over the "fascinating" "resourcefulness" of human beings.  I expressed delighted, apparently uncritical, interest in every religious text known to man and allowed that any new such texts that came to light would also enjoy my enthusiastic endorsement as testaments to human imaginative power.

Yes!  I was an atheist agnostic.  But I was an atheist agnostic who respected my religious friends and their religious traditions.  Nothing to fear here!  Nothing to hate or demonize.  I had "come out" as atheist,  but I was begging my theist friends to please not hate me.  It didn't work, of course.  I learned who my real friends were (depressingly few),  lost my reputation in a community in which I had been active for ten years, was sidelined as a moderator and soon pushed out (after 8 years of faithful service) and generally made to understand that who I am and what I offer this world is nothing to most people if I disbelieve in their gods.

Well, that's enough of that.  It was a good learning experience, though.  I learned very well how utterly ineffective accommodationism is.  I have lain low for a couple of years,  trying to weigh up the risk (to my self-respect and happiness) of continued silence and conformity against the risk of danger and discrimination to my children and partner if I am open about my anti-theism.

Oh right.  I forgot to mention that mere atheism has evolved into anti-theism over the past decade for what I consider obvious reasons.

Anyway,  I am ashamed of the earlier essay now.  It doesn't exactly lie,  but it shamefully avoids the whole truth of what I really believe.  Oh yes, I do think ancient tribes were damn resourceful inventing a sky fairy to use as an ultimate authority to back their own claims to land, mates and resources.  I should have continued to elaborate on how that sky monster and the convenient biblical canon built around it was (and still is) resourcefully used to justify genocide, infanticide and misogyny among other innumerable horrors,  but I stopped short of doing so.  In short, I was afraid to offend.

Not any more.  PZ Myers,  Christopher Hitchens,  Jen McCreight among many writers,  and especially the amazing commentariat on PZ's blog (those commenters literally thrilled me when I first discovered Pharyngula.  No guff!  No suffering fools gladly!) have inspired me.  Daily doses of their no-nonsense, unapologetic atheism (and especially the bracing feminism of the Pharyngula commentariat) has fortified me and stiffened my spine. 

I am a fifty-year old mother of five nearly grown children,  a homemaker and a thinker.  I am an atheist and a humanist.  I hope to write regularly on the topic of life as an ordinary atheist in an overwhelmingly theistic country,  general thoughts on religion in western society,  and on the danger of rising religiosity all over the world.  And I intend to write a new essay "Why I am an Atheist" to send to PZ Myers.