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Apocalypse When?

June 30, 2015 4 comments

We are three days (yes three, three days after Friday is Monday not Sunday) post the SCOTUS ruling allowing any consenting adult to marry each other and I’m still waiting for the apocalypse. Here’s the thing: we were all promised the end of the world, the end of America, the end of whatever else if gay marriage were allowed to be legal in the United States. People of Pat Robertson’s stripe promised us, they promised that god would be angry and would destroy something or perhaps inflict upon us something we wouldn’t like. Instead we were greeted with the same indifference that the Cosmos has for all living things.

Obviously this was going to be the case. Every Apocalypse I’ve seen predicted has not come to pass, because of course they won’t come to pass. Whatever is in charge of the universe, if anything, simply does not care about a legal arrangement between two people. Why should it care? The arrangement can’t harm it. It can’t be an affront to a thing that is supposed to infinite. So why are they fretting anyway?

If we assume that these preachers and pastors are being legitimate in their condemnation: meaning that they really think that this is an affront to their god where is their god’s vengeance? More importantly, how many times can their followers hear their fire and brimstone speeches yet still believe that they are right when the fire and brimstone fail to appear over and over again. This shows that there is no legitimate basis: either they are entirely wrong about the religion they think they are following or they are right and it is the religion that is wrong. Those are the only two options now that the great nothing has occurred.

This summer, so far, has been cool rather than blisteringly hot so that’s something, only no it’s quite pleasant. If you live in the Great Lakes region of the United States this last weekend we had a great deal of rain with some flooding of the 1 foot variety, but that’s rather tame and kind of a weak effort if it were truly divine intervention. The United States had a slow weekend, other than the ruling, so I think we can all chalk this up to the tacit approval of the Cosmos for the legal ruling by the Supreme Court. Nature does not care.

American seems to still be a thing. The Constitution still stands as the legal basis of the entire country. Hordes of [insert random villain here] have not overthrown the borders and sacked our major cities having been able to pierce the protective veil that the divine has set around the country and its interests.

Also, it does not seem as though the institution of marriage has been abolished. I’m still married. No government official has come to my door to present me with my divorce papers along with my new husband, nor has my wife been assigned a new wife. As far as I can tell this hasn’t happened to anyone at any time, aside from the arranged marriages in various parts of the world but those aren’t same sex. Every marriage I’m familiar with is still continuing as long as those involved are still wanting to. In fact, the day of the ruling a friend of mine got married, it wasn’t prevented by the ruling.

Further, I drove by a couple of Christian churches that were still standing. The doors of the places weren’t barred, there were no signs up indicating that the religion had been outlawed. I’ve seen no round ups of Christians into pens to be carted off to gay reeducation camp. Crosses have yet to be demolished, bibles aren’t being burned. It’s almost as if the people are being allowed to keep on living their lives as they see fit.

I said this Friday, the odds are that this ruling will not affect your life in any way. It just won’t, because the odds are that the person reading this isn’t gay. If you are gay, then you can get married if you already were not in a state that permitted it to begin with. I, luckily, live in one of those states where I can say with all the hipsterness available, “I lived in a state that didn’t need the Supreme Court to legalize your marriage.”

If you really hate this ruling you should keep this in mind, no one cares. See you are free to hold your opinion that gays are evil and gay marriage represents the downfall of America but you’ll be wrong. Yet in your error you will, again, be able to keep that opinion until you die. Your church can continue preaching that opinion along with the crazy idea that somehow that opinion will be illegal and that the religion itself will be outlawed without any kind of penalty. You can continue to hold the opinion that the ruling doesn’t represent the opinion of all the Christians in the nation, despite the fact that the number of people who are against gay marriage was less than half of the population according to the most recent, and last necessary time, poll asking the question. This ruling only affects you if you are gay and want to get married. Well, I guess if you live in a state that didn’t allow it, are planning on getting married, then you might want to book up your reservations a little earlier since there’s now more demand for banquet halls and all of the other assorted accouterments that go along with it…so yes, I suppose in a tangential way, it may affect you.

To those who predicted Apocalypse I only ask where is it? Ireland has had legal gay marriage for several months now, and unless you count the historical stomping that Ireland as a nation has endured in the last thousand years as retroactive punishment they have been getting along about as fine as the Irish always do. This ruling only gives equal protection to those who hadn’t had it before, it takes nothing away from the people that already had it.

Priorities

June 23, 2015 Leave a comment

Either by the end of the week or by Monday, the US Supreme Court is supposed to render its decision regarding the legality of certain types of marriages. This has obviously been met with resistance from the type of people who think that their religion is under some kind assault because people who do not share their beliefs want to live a life discordant with those same beliefs.

I’ve read the bible, nearly all of it. Thirteen years of Catholic school will do that, I admit I’ve skipped the genealogical stuff because who cares, and I’ve breeze through the weird laws and regulations because I can bore myself to sleep reading the tax code instead. There’s a lot in that collection of books and skipping the oddly specific rules regarding how one is to wash their hands, or the pedantic method by which an animal sacrifice ought to be conducted are these obscure regulations that Moses made up at the foot of Mt. Sinai. And yes, he made them up because the alternative is that all of us have been missing out on Commandments 11-50 if they were truly delivered by God. Nevertheless I’ve read the damn thing and I have to say that those people who think that because one line in Leviticus condemns homosexuality and that’s the line in the sand really have got their priorities messed up.

The thing I was always taught was that  one of the side effects of Jesus’s coming was that he was to dismiss the old laws and regulations, but that doesn’t exactly fit with a huge swath of the New Testament (see: Matt 5:18, Luke 16:17, John 7:19, etc.). That didn’t apparently matter to those teaching my religion classes so we tended to fixate on the rules that everyone was supposed to agree were generally good rules: meekness, humility, piety, and charity before the Creator. Ok, fine, since those were the rules that were explicitly stated by Jesus anyway it seemed to make a bit of sense. As far as I’m concerned I’d like to throw out the Old Testament as well, and make all the Christians either take all of the rules or take none of the rules.

They are so fixated on two issues to the point where they are blind to all others. Sure they can cite the infamous Leviticus 20:13 regarding how homosexual men ought to be put to death, and then jump through the intellectual hoops to get to abortion; but really that is the big thing that they spend all of their money and energy on. Since abortion is never addressed in the bible, aside from a weird judicial recommendation for causing an accidental miscarriage we’re going to skip that. I live on a street that boasts five tattoo parlors and I’ve yet to see a single protester outside of them carrying a sign citing Leviticus 19:28. I’ve yet to see a protester picketing a Red Lobster citing Leviticus 11:10, although there are plenty or reasons to picket that restaurant. I’ve even seen Christians angry because they think that a town or a school is going to refrain from putting up a Christmas tree despite the biblical fact that followers of god are not supposed to decorate trees (Jeremiah 10:2-4). Jos. A Bank sells clothing made of mixed fabric, where are the protesters for that?

I know the responses to this: one is to say that certain rules are ritualistic and others are moral. Another response is to say that certain rules made sense contextually; but both of these excuses are ridiculous. They are alleged to come from God through Moses (or another person) who literally told him these rules. I’m no theist, but if a divine being gave me a list of things that I was supposed to do, as in it literally handed them to me or if I thought I was getting them from someone that literally received them from it, I would probably be compelled to follow all of them context or not. After all, Jesus said they must all be followed. I don’t know, I don’t feel any compulsion to follow these rules.

The other excuse I have read is that they don’t apply anymore because mixed fibers don’t really matter anymore to most people. That’s a pretty weak excuse, because even if none of it mattered then (like how many shellfish are you going to encounter when your group is wandering the desert) it still mattered enough for someone to mention it. The telling part of the excuse though is that if people were worked up about mixing fibers, or seeds, or selling the wrong kind of slave then there would be protesters. Yet here’s the thing: they don’t have to be upset about gay marriage either because no one is going to make them go to the wedding. My state, New York, has had gay marriages for a couple years now and I’ve only been to one gay wedding reception, and that was an accident (long story). So why care about something that is never going to affect your life in the least bit? If you are so anti-gay marriage that thought of it makes your blood boil then you probably aren’t going to be invited to one, so there ought to be no problem.

But that’s not what’s going on. They aren’t against gay marriage because they are trying to save souls. They are against it because they are under this delusion that their religious freedoms are under assault because people that they don’t know want the same rights as everyone else. It should be obvious that this is not an attack, but it’s not obvious.

If I could communicate one fact to these individuals it would be this: no one cares about you with regard to this issue. The two men getting married this weekend in my city of Rochester (probably, I’m just making an assumption) don’t care one bit about the mindset of the protesters. It’s not about you, it’s about them. Just live and be happy, or barring that why don’t you try listening to your god-given commands to help the poor and needy. Or at the very least just follow Matthew 6:5 and leave us alone.

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Red Team: The Cracked Article IV

June 16, 2015 Leave a comment

We’re going to move to the first entry in Hill’s article, skipping number 2. The second entry on the list reads like a recap of the previous points. He goes into some greater explanation into a possible reason for the sexism, but for the most part it’s a summary. I understand the reason for this, Cracked.com’s editorial staff has requirements for each article they post. It’s usually a minimum of six entries, and sometimes as readers of the site will know, they go with five. However, it’s not going to be less than that unless you’re one of the staff writers who can command an audience by name alone. The problem with this is that sometimes the point doesn’t need five or six entries, this article certainly didn’t. I’m making an assumption of course, and perhaps I’m completely missing the point of the entry but it doesn’t seem necessary to address it here.

You can read the previous part here, which also contains link to parts one and two.

1: It’s Focused on the Wrong Goals

Hill’s entire article is pointing to this one entry. However the title of it is wrong. The first half of the text gives this impression but then the second half follows it with a sense that the movement is directionless. I agree with neither here. First off, there’s a huge problem in saying that this movement has a purpose since there is no leader, no single group, or even a sense of unity aside from the shared lack of belief in any gods. I hate to break it to any fundamentalists out there: but we don’t have a specific doctrine nor do we agree on every issue. For example, I like Penn Jillette’s evidence based approach to a number of things but I disagree with his libertarian position on a lot of issues. We aren’t a monolithic entity and for some reason that’s hard for people to grapple with when they discuss a conspiracy of atheists as the Michelle Bachman’s of the world are known to do.

The mistake that is made here in saying that we’re focused on the wrong goals is that Hill commits the fallacy of “guilt by association.” He cites internet trolls who only exist to rile people up. Sure, that’s a fair criticism of trolls but it’s unfair to say that it’s endemic of the movement itself. That’d be like saying that everyone who watched the movie “American Sniper” is racist because of the comments that appeared underneath some well known reviews of the movie. Yes, of course, some of those people exist in the offline world as well who take potshots at a person’s religion but in general, most atheists aren’t like that.

There are two goals that I recognize as common to all Atheists whether they work for them or not: awareness and recognition. Awareness is simple, it’s just people trying to get the word out that Atheists exist and that we aren’t bad people. I think at this time we can probably say that the former has been accomplished while the latter is still under construction. There is the common trope that unless you fear a god you will be an immoral person, it’s bullshit, but it’s so tied into a common narrative that it needs to be repeated over and over that morality doesn’t need ghosts and the supernatural to exist. I’ve burned a lot of pixels making that point so I won’t rehash it now. It’s also important to spread the word that we exist so that other people won’t think they are alone in being open about their lack of belief. This is a much more common issue, especially in areas of the country where even the idea of not belonging to some kind of church is viewed with absurdity.

The second is recognition, but I need to come up with a better word for it because it almost seems synonymous with the first thing. By recognition I mean that Atheists just want to not have government officials shove a particular religion on us as though there’s something wrong with us for not sharing in it. In essence, we just want the law to apply equally whether or not we agree on the existence of a supernatural deity. This means that we shouldn’t be subject to prayer at city council meetings or in schools; we shouldn’t have to learn a “controversy” over the origin of life in a science class when the science is literally monolithic that there is no controversy. We also shouldn’t have to pretend that it’s offensive to state those things. Just apply the law without exception and without exemption whether to all of us equally. Right now 7 states illegally ban Atheists from holding public office (Arkansas, Pennsylvania, Texas, Maryland, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Mississippi) in violation of the Constitution which states that there shall be no religious test for public office (Article VI). I’m not claiming that we’re being oppressed.

If you’re religious and you think non-believers need to just suck it up and remember that this is the United States well imagine how a Christian would feel if they were forced to listen to Muslim prayers at the open of a high school football game? Or a Muslim a Jewish opening, a Buddhist a Hindu opening, etc. I have a friend that was outraged when he thought that his school district was going to have a Halal menu but didn’t see the irony that they never served meat on Fridays during Lent. It’s the same damn thing. We just want those special exemptions wiped away.

That’s here in the Western World, we just want the same legal rights that everyone else has. For the rest of the world, the goal is a little more dire because we want people to not be publicly executed and punished for not believing in the state religion as they are in countries like Saudi Arabia.

The goal could be summarized as being simple equality. As a group our numbers are growing. According to that Pew Research poll from a month back, Atheists are the largest non-Christian group in the United States and as such we ought to be shown the same kind of legal recognition that the other groups are as well.

To recap the series I think Hill has a lot of good points but in focusing on a couple of examples he can point out that the movement has some problems. Sure, these do exist and they do need to be dealt with. Pointing out the flaws in a movement that you agree with is always a sign that it’s going in the right direction. It shows that people are taking it seriously, and as long as that person isn’t accused of being a traitor it’s how it’s supposed to work. It was a good article and while I have some disagreements I applaud the critiques.

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Red Team: The Cracked Article III

June 9, 2015 1 comment

Part one and Part two

3. There’s an Arrogance to It

Let’s get this out of the way first: there’s arrogance on both sides of this issue. It helps no one, but the simple fact is that it is there. Now if I was dismissing Hill’s argument with, “yeah but they’re arrogant too,” I would be committing the fallacy known as the Tu Quoque (or for those not in Philosophy/Latin: “You’re another”). A person commits this fallacy when they point out that they are only doing the same thing as someone else, e.g. my littering is ok because you are littering as well. The person committing this fallacy is usually oblivious to the possibility that they are both wrong. The further problem, and Hill points this out: is that almost any movement has this problem whether it’s theists, atheists, vegetarians, vegans, Marxists, Randians, etc. In my opinion the most insufferable are the ex-Christian New Agers, but that’s just me. In Philosophy the worst offenders are those that have read Nietzsche for the first time. Yet none of that is the point of this post.

Arrogance is hurting the movement, because the most visible of the so-called “New Atheists” do come across as being pretentious jerk offs. If that’s the way they always are, then so be it, I don’t like their approach but that’s them. What has to be understood is that there are a lot of us atheists in the world, and for the most part we don’t work ourselves up into a frenzy and confront people regarding religious beliefs. Just today, for example, I was drafting up this entry while next to me a man was explaining his Christian beliefs to a younger woman (it was some kind of spiritual guidance thing, I wasn’t paying too close attention to it) and I didn’t knock my hand on the table explaining that his religion was wrong, or simply announce that I was an atheist. I was also in a coffee shop, so nuts to that old joke.

One of the problems is that of perception. Literally, religious people dominate the landscape, especially in the United States and now there is this growing group of people who not only don’t accept Christianity but actively deny that there is any truth to it. To those people who have been in the status quo for so long it will always look arrogant when a new group tries to tell them that they are wrong. But let’s put that facet aside, since it’s not really what he’s talking about. He’s talking about the kind of person that corrects another when they say, “god bless you” after hearing a sneeze.

Again, I don’t care what you believe as long as you don’t care that I don’t share that belief. The problem occurs when one side attacks the other for their beliefs, or lack of belief in my case. What some Atheists don’t understand is that when you attack a religious believer the perception is different than the intention. If I tell a person that one reason that I’m not a Christian is because there is no evidence outside of the Bible of a historical Jesus (aside from the Gnostic Gospels which were rejected for being heretical of course), they perceive that not as an attack on their belief, or their religion, but as an attack on them.

Because their personalities are tied to their belief systems, the ability of them to listen to rational arguments shuts down. This is not an insult, it’s a measured fact. They’ve done this kind of experiment with all manner of beliefs including political ideology where I first encountered the phenomenon (see the book: The Political Brain by Drew Westen). Further by arrogantly condescending you have the added effect of causing the person not to listen but to double down on their belief. If I point out the problem in the Gospels that not one of the four stories of the resurrection have very little in common with another (time, place, who was there, who arrived, the position of the stone, etc.) and the other person replies that it’s a matter of faith; if I reply that faith is something morons say in lieu of actually trying to understand something I essentially force them deeper into accepting the mystery. Arrogance doesn’t work, which is why Pat Robertson screaming at how I’m bringing down not only Christianity but the nation is never going to turn me back.

I am, by trade, in the education business and I know that you can’t force someone to understand only regurgitate. To get them to understand is a very tricky thing. You have to get them on a path where they come to an understanding. I’ve gotten my oldest daughter to understand basic formal logic by rote, but she doesn’t understand; that takes time. I don’t preach on this blog, I’m not trying to convert anyone I’m merely sharing my view as an Atheist on various things. The best I can hope for is someone to say, “I understand your point of view” or “That’s an interesting way of looking at it” I don’t delude myself into thinking that some religious person is going to read it and think, “Now I’m an atheist.”

I don’t think that because I’m not a teenager who is under the illusion that they are the first one who ever thought that there was no god and that religion is man made. In general I think that the billboard series “Good without God” or the ones which try and reassure the closeted Atheists that they are not alone are much more effective than the ones that say “there is no god now go enjoy your life,” in that they are merely addressing concerns rather than attacking another person’s beliefs. All of that being said, I will admit that it’s particularly difficult to remain detached when arguing with someone who still clings to the literal truth about stories like Jonah and the whale (or fish, as if that was the problem). That’s an issue I think all Atheists need to figure out how to deal with.

Smugness is reproachable. It places everyone at a distance. Even I don’t like talking to those kinds of atheists despite the fact that I share their non-belief. Passion is one thing, but pretension is quite another.

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Red Team: The Cracked Article II

June 2, 2015 4 comments

Since any perspective or way of life ought to be subject to criticism, any post I write with the title “Red Team” is one which looks at Atheism with a self-critical eye. I borrowed the term from the second season of HBO’s Newsroom. This continue my look at Mark Hill’s article from cracked.com, you can read the first post here.

4. It’s Becoming Tied to Awful Ideas

“You can’t claim to be a proponent of science and reasonable thinking, only to regress to hacky sitcom stereotypes about women being humorless harpies who bring sexual assault upon themselves.”

This sentence is the thesis of point 4 (if you’re unfamiliar with Cracked, they do list format) and it’s a tricky point. First off, this isn’t unique to the Atheism movement as the criticisms he’s alleging also belong to the skepticism movement as well. One of the examples that he gave, about the woman in the elevator occurred at a skeptic conference which is not necessarily an atheist group (although there is a large overlap between the two). In either case though he’s correct.

If Atheists are going to claim allegiance to evidence based belief systems then they must embrace equality among, not only the sexes, but also sexual orientation. If a couple of out of touch individuals make misogynistic remarks it is up to the movement itself to criticize them. Using a couple of examples though doesn’t represent an entire movement: and it’s quite important to note that without a specific doctrine wherein women are basically told they have second class status this is more of a problem with the people in the movement than the movement itself. Nearly all of the religious doctrines in the world have it built in to their tenets that women simply aren’t equal. Which is why there are no female Catholic priests, Imams, Rabbis, Yogis, etc. There is nothing in Atheism that can be pointed out as being expressly anti-woman any more than there is something that can be used to show an official doctrine of liberalism/conservatism.

This is a problem with the members of the group who feel that the boy’s club is being invaded. The movement has always had women involved, but as a distinct minority. Presently, that has been changing at an incredibly rapid pace and some people just don’t know how to adjust. It’s a sad reflection on society in general that it needs to “adjust” at all. How difficult should it be to just say, “if you don’t believe you’re one of us.”

The spat of Islamophobia though is a different story. Unlike the misogyny, atheism does have a natural hostility to Islam as much as it has against any other of the religions of the world (maybe not Unitarianism). Islam is a direct target for a couple of reasons: the first, and most important, is that followers of fundamentalist versions of the religion regularly target non-believers and any critic of the religion for death. Within the last couple months, three atheist bloggers have been brutally murdered in public in Indonesia, one received an official lashing by the Saudi Arabian government, and in many Muslim countries being an atheist is illegal under various penalties up to and including execution. This is a feature that, in the present day, is unique to these types of theocratic governments. It’s a behavior that used to exist in Christian governments, but that was in the Middle Ages so a particular hostility to Muslim countries is going to exist.

However, that does not excuse racism and the most difficult part is making it explicitly clear where the line is and where it gets crossed. If I want to accuse a religion of being inhospitable to non-believers or apostates that is one thing. If I say that the followers are nothing more than animals, that is clearly the other. However, somewhere in between those two obvious bench marks is that mysterious line. Can a person criticize a belief system and not criticize the believer? That’s the tricky question not because the answer is “yes” with an “if;” but because the answer for the most part is “no.” The followers of a religion tend to identify with that religion to a degree that it is inextricably tied to their personal identity.

The debate between Sam Harris and Ben Affleck is the literal argument over whether this is possible. I personally disagree with Affleck and his ultra-liberalism: a belief system can be utterly wrong and some cultures are better than others. Does that make me a racist or an Islamophobe (a term which I despise because it’s not an accurate representation of hatred)? I don’t think so. I’m calling out a culture, like Saudi Arabia’s, where women aren’t allowed to drive a car or leave their house without a male chaperon and where they are confined to wearing clothes which identify them as the weaker subservient half of the species. Objectively, I don’t see how you can make the cultural relativistic argument that it’s not worse, it’s just different.

While militant religion, of any kind, is a notion that worries me I wouldn’t go so far as for advocate penalties for believing in any of them. I don’t think that just because a person is a Muslim that it means they are worse than any other person. The charge of Islamophobia/racism seems a bit extreme. It’s like claiming that anyone who liked the movie “American Sniper” is racist because of the comments which were posted underneath reviews of the movie: it’s an incorrect generalization. Singling any one religion out as a particular target is unwise as the one thing that all Atheists are united about is that all religion is mere superstition. When one of the supposed leaders of Atheism does cross the line, it ought to be called out; but just because they are criticizing a culture doesn’t mean it’s a racist comment.

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