The Smart Believers

I haven’t posted in a while, but that’s mostly because I’m busy. Busy trying to survive, really. A tough job market when your skills include ‘a craft no one cares about’ and ‘job experience everyone else has too’. No surprise though, and I’ll take it in stride (up until starvation).

I come back a month later with this article that I thought was interesting. 

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It is ‘The False Equation of Atheism and Intellectual Sophistication’.

In it, Emma Green reviews the book ‘The Age of Atheists’, by Peter Watson. I haven’t read it, but it definitely sounds interesting from this article. If that was her plan here, she did an excellent job. She managed to raise a discussion worthy point, and make me want to read something.

What was Green’s point? That Watson draws an unfair connection between intellectualism and atheism. That is, you don’t have to be stupid to believe in god. Which I completely agree with. Most of the smart people I know, doing math, science, programming, and writing well beyond what I am capable of, are religious. This isn’t a surprise, because as Green points out, the vast majority of people on the planet right now believe in some sort of higher power.

A little depressing right? I mean, not for the religious, but for the rest of us. We live in a rather modern world, we are a scant few innovations away from full on cyberpunk, and we live in a world where a majority of the people are prepared to meet a white-bearded guy in the sky after they die. 

Back to the article. Green makes a good point. If Watson does what she says, because I haven’t read the book yet, then this isn’t the age of atheists at all. No matter how many philosophers, scientists, musicians, or artists ended up being atheists, they are still in the minority. We can say that creative minds wrestled with the question and came to atheism, but what about creative minds today which wrestle with it and stop at deism? Which do we say was superior? 

Artists are not a good comparison, because most of Western society is still under the illusion that there is ‘no judging art’. How about two great scientists, both have created new theories that have redefined industries, have made lives better for people worldwide, then one is an atheist and one is a christian. We cannot, would not, claim that the atheist one is some how smarter because of his conclusion, would we? Would be silly, and I wouldn’t expect it. To do the opposite is cruel as well, even in the rare cases where it does happen (especially when atheists are judged morally weak just because they don’t believe in god).

It creates an intriguing point. Can atheism claim a philosophical or intellectual high ground? My stance has always been this: If you examine evidence directly, you’ll at least end up agnostic. You may ask yourself ‘Mr. Black blogger man, what about all your smart friends you mentioned earlier?’

Most people don’t bother examining the evidence. As I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts, they have no reason to ponder the question beyond a superficial ‘Is there a God?’ and then moving on when their own life experiences calls back with ‘yes’. Green would say that this is wrong, if her article is any clue, because it implies that the average person has examined the question incorrectly, and only these ‘intelligent’ outliers have thought it through right and come to atheism. That isn’t how I see it.

Life is a awful mixture of cultures, personal, friendly, familial, local, etc. The life you live is going to determine your path to answering the question yes or no in the end. I heard about god my whole childhood, there were bibles all around, but my mother wasn’t the sort to go every Sunday. Who knows, I wouldn’t be writing this today if she did go every Sunday. If she did go every Sunday, I might not be writing at all, since my atheism has informed innumerable choices in my life. I think religious Marshall would be somewhere with his dad right now, probably organizing that business to feed people that just got out of prison. Not bad, not bad.

The reason I’m an atheist, and another person smarter than me is not, is because of that trail of variables that is existence. Those moments we brush up against that rewrite us as a human being, crafts us from day to day. When I dropped my religion, it was before I even looked at all the facts, it was turning my back on something I thought of as childish and badly put together. Really, my initial reason for atheism is because the bible story is pretty crappy, it is mother goose level WTFery. I didn’t believe in many other nursery rhymes, and god was one more that could be discarded. I went from being in constant fear that I would meet my maker, to altering my definitions of my maker so I wouldn’t have to fear them (I remember trying to be a Zen Christian in high school after reading one book, oh me), and then discarding the whole thing all together. 

Not easy, mind you, but I don’t remember crying over it. I’ve had anxiety attacks since then, but now I’m a simple human being who will cease to exist upon death, so give me a break.

On the other hand, I know students on their way to doctorates who still believe in god. Are they stupid? Not really. Have they wrestled with the question incorrectly? Possibly. Would it be wrong to say otherwise? If you are say, a medical doctor, you know enough about the basics of human life to put the god question to task. Infinite source of morality? It doesn’t take the experiences of a medical doctor to throw that out the window, it just takes reading about the wildly different moralities across the globe and through time. Humans created from whole cloth? But then people break their ‘tail bone’, and you remember that we have one of those. Automatically, the level of education required of a doctor requires adjusting your personal definitions for god. 

So why are so many nurses and doctors still religious? You don’t have to think about whether there is a god while you study medicine. It isn’t in the curriculum (and shouldn’t be). You can examine the skeletal structure of a human being, then turn around and praise to your heart’s content.

This all said, great minds have come to the atheist conclusion when wrestling with the question. Many others have gone agnostic. Usually, the more book smart you get, the more liberal your religious interpretations become until they break away. You go from praising for every meal, to realizing that god is probably just some distant clock maker, to realizing that maybe god is just what we call consciousness and true thought, to realizing that there isn’t a need for a god in there at all. It happens, or it doesn’t happen.

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The Unknown and Spirituality

Back when I was a religious person, I considered me and my family spiritual. This was, and still is, a sort of an out. It is that last ditch effort by the liberal minded to escape a lot of the stuff we just don’t like about religion. Turns out I fell the rest of the way out, but there are a lot of people out there who have taken on this ‘spiritual’ point of view.

It isn’t bad when you really consider it. I mean, most of us are not science minded. I grew up taking only a few science classes, and then my time at university was spent nose-deep in books about fantastical gods and witty Brits insulting each other. Even though I believe I understand evolution, anti-theist arguments, string theory, I really don’t. I take what I can, and I draw connections for the rest. It would be just as easy for me to drop those concepts and live my life without ‘atheism’ or religion.

Religion is hard. It is an easy mental escape, but it requires a ton of mental space to remember rituals, sayings, mythology. On top of that there are the social obligations that are nearly impossible for someone like me. No, I don’t want to go to the church BBQ, there have been four of those this month, stop! 

On the other hand, atheism is a mental struggle with little to no social obligations. It takes on the opposite space within our culture. Atheism requires first and foremost the admittance of mortality and oblivion. There is no do over, no second life, no after-party. 

Why deal with either of them? The world is full of so much in between. We have believed in gods, spirits, aliens, karma, mojo, curses, hexes, magic, all without needing the overbearing religions we have today. Some of these things feel good to think about, the idea that doing good will echo good in your life, that a terrible accident wasn’t your fault but instead a curse from some harmless action. It is all the mental escape of religion without the social weight. These terms and ideas have become so ubiquitous that you can mention them without any follow up questions.

“That must have been bad karma.”

“That is some good mojo.”

“Thank god we made it.”

Done, no background needed, everyone understands what you mean. Whether you truly believe in the details or not, that isn’t important to the conversation. 

This sort of ‘spiritualism’ doesn’t mean the person doesn’t consider themselves Christian, or any other faith. Far from that, it allows them to mix their knowledge of their faith with other concepts that they come across. The christian that believes in karma has an easy answer to the problem that doesn’t require questioning the motivation and frequency of divine intervention. 

This is fueled by our history, and the power of the unknown. There are things that we don’t question because it allows us to pad what we just don’t know. If you don’t know how probability functions, recurring bad luck can seem like fate instead of odds that just didn’t go your way. All of my knowledge of probability comes from rolling 1s when I need my little plastic soldiers to win me battles against other nerds. I know the sting of probability, and even I cry out in anguish to the dice gods. It is that easy to get swept up in what seems hard to explain, even if it actually is simple.

Even with education on the topic, it is easy for people to still believe in the supernatural solution. Knowledge of evolution hasn’t stopped millions from believing in a god, they just rewrite god’s process. That is good though. I would rather have someone rewrite their idea of mojo to account for odds, than have to deal with someone who thinks god plays dice.

When You Just Have To Be Right… Christian Movies

I’ve mentioned before that I didn’t grow up in the church. I’ve never been like, an altar boy, or the pastor’s favorite. That wasn’t my life, and I have my mother to thank for that. I can’t imagine what my existence would be like if my split from religion was nearly as painful as some of the stories I’ve heard. For me I just woke up one day and decided to be salty on the internet.

That said, I’ve put up with a fair bit of Christian related entertainment throughout my days. Most of this was through the Lifetime channel, but that is just the tip of the Made-for-TV-movie iceberg. 

I’ll note right now that I don’t see a lot of harm in Christian entertainment. Actually, I find it kind of amusing. If you’ve been in America long enough you’ve probably heard whispers, whether joking or from actual wingnuts, that the Jewish people control the media and negatively influence society through it. Considering the percentage of Christians in this country, and the sheer number of movies they create every year to celebrate their own religion, I can’t help but imagine people wearing tinfoil hats when they say the media is anti-Christian.

It is hard to make it through the year without watching some movie with at least a small Christian message to it, especially since Christmas is a thing. This isn’t bad though, this is just a matter of audiences getting what they want. If more than 50% of your audience can be pleased by having an angel give a woman a backrub, you better hand that angel some KY because things are about to get slippery. That is how business works.

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We’ve come to the point where big movie releases, like the upcoming Noah, can just scoop up biblical stories and mutate them for the audience that wants to feel a little biblical, but also wants to see someone be impaled. Some kid is going to see this movie as an action flick, in the way that I watched movies like Terminator, and it will be a formative part of their youth. That is strange to me.

I’m pretty sure the most impact Christian imagery had on the movies of my childhood was watching Nick Cage be a creeper in City of Angels.

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Actually, this could explain a lot about my childhood, and dealings with women.

Still, the untold story here is that these movies create an atmosphere with one religion prominent. Sure the angels in City of Angels are a little on the Edward Cullen side, but it makes a nice stepping stone for a parent to justify real angels to their kid. Sure Noah probably wasn’t as undeniably handsome as our friend Russel Crowe, but he makes a better story than pseudo-moses building an impossible boat to house varying numbers of animals. It is pervasive. That isn’t me being angry or annoyed by it, just stating the fact. When you grow up watching movies where squeezing your cross real hard and holding on to your good Christian values saves the day, you don’t see much of a need to question that attitude. 

I wish this was a conspiracy, but it is just good old hollywood fun. It helps highlight that even the figures we respect, great actors and directors, are likely Christian. They enjoy these messages, and will create shows/movies/video games/snappy post cards with that imagery implanted. Even if they aren’t, the population of our world will, on average, respond better to a Christian message. 

Heck, even I’ve made use of this fact.

Ritual, Religion, and the Superb Owl

The Super bowl is upon us. On February 2nd, my home team the Seattle Seahawks will go up against the Broncos. It is a pretty big deal around these parts, with many in my own family ready to watch a game that could change Seahawks football forever.

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I think.

Personally, I don’t watch a lot of football. I used to play when I was little, so I don’t get the same rush from watching other people do it. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t influence me though, I still have flashbacks to the energy that a football game creates, the stands can explode with the sort of dynamic human emotion that you can only find in a stadium, or in a church.

With that clumsy segue, according to a survey, more than 50% of American’s believe that the supernatural is at work to effect the outcome of sporting events. Let me repeat that for you, 55% of American’s think that angels, demons, god, or curses, are influencing whether football team A bests football team B.

I like sports. Unlike many of my nerd-kin, I was quite the athlete. Not a good athlete, I just did a lot of sports. Ran track, played football, baseball, basketball, and I was even a wrestler for about two weeks (no homo). While I understand people’s complaints about sports, and there are some serious ones to be laid against sports, I think a lot of people miss the point. This survey, done by the Public Religion Research Institute, has some insight into why that is.

The world is dangerous. Many of us, including me, live in a relatively safe place and don’t face that danger. That doesn’t change that as humans, we are adapted to a world of struggle, physical and mental. I’ve always considered sporting events to be the complete replacement for more gladiator-like affairs of the past (ignoring that sports and games would have existed well before gladiator combat), and wargames. We want to see battle, we want to let out something primal, listen to those base instincts. For the players, and those viewing, sports let that happen. You use your body and mind to best those around you, sometimes in single combat, sometimes in small unit tactics, and winning the day means conquest for you and your tribe (that would be the fans, if this metaphor has gone too far). 

So, as people have prayed for victory in war in the past, asked oracles for signs, or performed rituals for favor, so do humans now for sporting events. It may seem silly to think that an all powerful deity would care what teams win a game about pushing an odd-shaped ball from point A to point B by arbitrary rules of progression, but it is only slightly more silly than thinking that same all powerful deity would care which tribe of humans slaughters and enslaves another. I guess what I’m trying to say is, same shit, different game. 

Now there is another aspect of this that we haven’t talked about, which is that we ARE in the middle of wars, with real fighting between real people who really die. So why isn’t there nearly as much prayer and ritual to win that battle? Well, the moral and physical aspects of winning a war are complicated, football isn’t. Hockey is also complicated, but screw that sport, no one plays it but Canadians.

Good luck to the Seahawks in the Superb Owl 2014. To assure your success, I’ll finish my taxes, and browse the internet. It is secret code between me and god.

 

The Questions We Should Always Ask (But Can’t)

Like a lot of people on the internet, I can’t just ignore arguments on the internet. The older I get, the less I get mixed up in these things. Not for any lack of conviction, but because I see the same conversations recycled day after day.

From XKCD

Bet you’ve never seen someone link an XKCD comic before, have you?

Now I’ve taken to picking my conversations. When it comes to speaking to theist (Christians in particular), I have to make sure I know what brand of Christian I am speaking to before I even start stating points.

Why is that? Well, while my Christian brothers and sisters might think it is obvious to everyone what they believe, that is not the case. There is only one thing you know about a Christian from them stating they are a Christian, they are a follower of Jesus Christ. Everything else is up in the air.

This isn’t a crisis, but this ambiguity leads to the sort of arguments I would rather sit on a spike than have. I mean, nothing says ‘I’m really enjoying this talk, really’ like being yelled at for ‘not understanding the bible at all’ for the millionth time.

If I could have it my way, every Christian would answer a quiz before they entered conversations. Without the quiz present, they can’t make any theological statements. What sort of quiz? Well, I found it right here in my brainbox.

We should start at section 1, remember to write your name in the top right corner.

1 God

1.A: Do you believe in god?

Yes or No

1.B: Do you believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ?

Yes or No

1.C: Do you believe in the trinity? (God the father, God the son, and God the holy ghost.)

Yes or No

1.D: Do you believe that god is Omniscient, Omnipresent, Omnipotent?

Yes or No

1.E: Do you believe god is Omnibenevolent (Always good)?

Yes or No

You would imagine these questions are obvious, but they are not. Some Christians are so liberal, that they just believe in the message of Jesus, but don’t believe in his divinity, so it is good to get that one out of the way. Some Christians don’t believe in the holy ghost, others think God and Jesus are two different dudes (instead of being the three in one). Not everyone agrees that God is omnibenevolent, which gives the big guy a pass on that whole justifying wars thing, or killing everyone in that flood. Plus, he promised not to do it again, so we should give him a break.

2 The Bible

2.A: Do you believe the bible is the word of god?

Yes, No, Some of it

2.B: Do you believe the bible is without errors?

Yes, No, Some of it

2.C: Do you believe the bible has ever been purposefully edited? (has had its meaning changed)

Yes or No

2.D: Do you believe in Revelation?

Yes or No

This section is simple, but it saves you a lot of grief. If you point out a contradiction in the bible (like god saying he will not do something, then immediately saying he will do something), you want to know if your Christian pal is going to bite you on the nose, or put their fingers in their ears (yes, these are the two choices. Sorry for all of those who don’t like the taste of noses).

3 The Universe

3.A: Do you believe in ghosts?

Yes or No

3.B: Do you believe in demons?

Yes or No

3.C: Do you believe in magic?

Yes, No, Only divine occurrences

3.D: Do you believe in miracles?

Yes or No

3. E: Do you believe there are other gods?

Yes, No, Maybe

3.F: Do you believe in karma?

Yes or No

3.G: Do you believe in reincarnation?

Yes or No

Some Christians are what we call, ‘open minded’, in that they allow for other spooky stuff to also exist. I’m pretty sure god was supposed to put a stop to magic at some point in the old testament, but I haven’t double checked that one recently. Also, if the Bible is true, there shouldn’t be any ghosts. That doesn’t stop many Christians from believing in them, but I’ve gone over that in the past. The point is, sometimes people (Christians or not) hang on to beliefs even older than the Bible. Demons fall into the same category, with the Bible almost having nothing to say about them (unless you get into non-canon texts), but it won’t stop your average Christian from believing in them.

4 Sin, Heaven, and Evil

4.A: Do you believe sinners can get to heaven?

Yes or No

4.B: Do you believe we are born sinners?

Yes or No

4.C: Does purgatory exist?

Yes, No, Maybe

4.D: Can you be forgiven of your sins?

Yes or No

4.E: Who is ultimately responsible for evil?

The Devil, God, or Man

4.F: Is god aware of your choices before you make them?

Yes or No

“I form the light, and create darkness; I make peace, and create evil. I am Jehovah, that doeth all these things.” – Isaiah 45:7

But god still outsources some of the evil to the devil, sometimes, maybe. Also, no one ever seems able to agree what it takes to get into Heaven. Well, except no one seems willing to drop babies into hell, even if they believe we are born with sin. Babies always get a free pass (those crafty bastards).

5 The Rest

5.A: Do you believe there were dinosaurs?

Yes or No

5.B: How old do you think the Earth is?

Many billions of years old, Around 6000 years old, No idea.

5.C: Do you believe prayer works?

Yes or No

 Meh, this is the easy stuff. I won’t bore you with it.

So how did your Christian do? Sometimes you realize that you are barely talking to a ‘Christian’ at all. Instead of some conservative bible thumper, you’ve found a free-loving yoga spiritual who think Jesus was just another incarnation of the Buddha. Still, he thinks YHWH is the one true god, and f*** you for saying otherwise.

Other times you find out you’re talking to a hardcore Christian who thinks the bible is perfect, but also thinks that people are living their third lives, and people get bad grades because the devil spends his time oppressing Black youth in the ghetto.

Which is fine, believe your religion however you want. Just don’t get mad at me when I don’t realize that in YOUR version of Christianity, God has a 4th incarnation that is an impossibly fluffy teddy bear.

Another Quote For the Brainbox: Robert Ingersoll

(I temporarily caught what I can only imagine was the Black Plague. I got better.)

As if it isn’t obvious enough that I’m one of ‘those people’, I get very excited about new and interesting pieces I find. Especially when they link to one of my favorite subjects. In this case, I was hit with several of my favorites at once when an internet poster quoted ‘Ingersoll’s vow’.

If you’ve already read it, you can go ahead and leave. 

Now we’ve all heard the saying, ‘beauty is in the eyes of the beholder’. As a humanities major, we usually throw that out the window rather early. You couldn’t imagine my shock as the walls of ‘you can’t judge art’ came crumbling down around me. I imagine that is why so many people consider the humanities an ‘easy A’, they think we sit around all day and jerk/schlick off on pieces of art that we particularly like. That is wrong, we only do that on Tuesdays, and we take the art to a classy movie first.

That said, sometimes you meet a piece of art that just takes your breath away. The construction of it, the message, it all comes together to lay you on your back, and tell you that it is going to be on top tonight. You blush, but you’re just going to have to take it. That’s how I feel about Ingersoll’s Vow. So now I’ll just paste the darn thing here.

When I became convinced that the universe was natural,
That all the ghosts and gods were myths,
There entered into my brain, into my soul, into every drop of my blood,
The sense, the feeling, the joy of freedom.
The walls of my prison crumbled and fell.
The dungeon was flooded with light
And all the bolts and bars and manacles turned to dust.
I was no longer a servant, a serf, or a slave.
There was for me no master in all the wide world, not even in infinite space.

I was free to think.
Free to express my thoughts,
Free to live in my own ideal.
Free to live for myself, and those I loved.
Free to use all my faculties, all my senses.
Free to spread imagination’s wings,
Free to investigate, to guess, and dream and hope.
Free to judge and determine for myself.
Free to reject all ignorant and cruel creeds,
All the inspired books that savages have produced,
And the barbarous legends of the past.
Free from sanctified mistakes and “holy” lies.
Free from the fear of eternal pain,
Free from the winged monsters of the night.
Free from devils, ghosts and gods.
For the first time I was free.

There were no prohibited places in all of the realm of thought.
No error, no space where fancy could not spread her painted wings.
No chains for my limbs.
No lashes for my back.
No flames for my flesh.
No Master’s frown or threat,
No following in another’s steps.
No need to bow or cringe or crawl, or utter lying words.
I was free; I stood erect and fearlessly, joyously faced all worlds.

My heart was filled with gratitude, with thankfulness,
And went out in love to all the heros, the thinkers who gave their lives
For liberty of hand and brain,
For the freedom of labor and thought to those who fell
On the fierce fields of war.
To those who died in dungeons, bound in chains,
To those by fire consumed,
To all the wise, the good, the brave of every land
Whose thoughts and deeds have given freedom to the sons of men.
And then, I vowed to grasp the torch that they held, and hold it high,
That light might conquer darkness still.

I just enjoy that, I can feel that. If there was ever a way to summarize the freedom of atheism, I think this is a good go at it.

Have you ever read a piece that gave you those sort of feels, as if it summarized a section of your life better than you ever could? 

I Can Explain That: Sex Positive

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Oglaf.com

Every now and again I see a post on the internet that is definitely sex positive. No, I’m not trolling pornographic forums (as much).

Sex Positive, if you don’t know, is defined on wiki as “an attitude towards human sexuality that regards all consensual sexual activities as fundamentally healthy and pleasurable, and encourages sexual pleasure and experimentation.” To make it simple, I hear sex ain’t that bad.

So just hearing that you might say, “well I’m sex positive,” but is that true? Sex Positive is often seen as the opposite of Sex Negative, which our culture often is. When we look at the sexually charged world around us, it is still definitely a world that says ‘shun those having sex, and the less you see sex the better’.

Up until a few years ago, I would say I was a prude. I didn’t really talk about sex related content, I didn’t want to hear about sex stuff. Sure, I had the internet, I saw sex everywhere I looked, but it wasn’t conversation to have with other people. I lived in a world where the only venue to talk about sex was the piggish humor we expect of frat boys on a FOX network sitcom. If you aren’t talking about boning a girl because she is simply attractive, or insinuating that someone’s mother was sucking on your boy dong, what is there to talk about?

A lot, it turns out. Sex Positive is that gateway that says, ‘oh wait, people have sex all the time… like seriously, there are probably a bunch of people being boned within a mile of me at any moment.’ So what are we so afraid of? Why do we, and by we I usually mean moms (but that is unfair), shiver in fear at the idea of someone talking about sex?

Is it to protect the children? Screw children! No that isn’t an endorsement of Catholicism, I mean we can’t shut the world down because kids might see something. That isn’t protection, that is ignorance. All it leads to is a bunch of children so confused when they do find pornography that they can’t even understand their own bodies. We raise hordes of sexually repressed and shamed children, especially young women, and it isn’t healthy for anybody.

We know what being Sex Negative does, it leads to teen pregnancy from ignorance of how sex works, or fear of packing contraception. It leads to fear of human anatomy. It can lead to a boring and unsatisfying sex life. It can lead to rape.

Sex Positive is the chance to know that not only does your body have this awesome capacity for good feels, you are probably going to use it. So go ahead, put on some Barry White, take your good hand out on a date. Learn what quality sex is, find out what you enjoy, and then be open enough to find out that someone isn’t good for you before you’re 3 kids into the deal and realize that some people have this thing called an ‘orgasm’.

I’ve wanted to be more ‘Sex Positive’ in my life. That is, be more open when talking about sex, refuse to shame sexual acts simply because I wouldn’t do them, speak the facts about the human body. It isn’t easy, I mean, I was a total prude. The internet has definitely helped.

I get to read web comics that take a serious look at reviewing sex toys.

The local newspaper includes captain sex positive himself, Dan Savage of Savage Love.

It seems like the whole world has realized that we don’t have to hide our dicks in a box.

Well, not the whole world, but it is never that easy. I see the Sex Positive Movement as an ally to secularism, because religion is often at the forefront of Sex Negative activity. When you see the world as pure virgins who must keep themselves safe from the devilry that is sex, there is no room for an open conversation about safe sexual exploration. Some religions fear that maybe someone will have sex before they have had the chance to stamp it with their divine approval.

Why is that? Well science says it is ‘divine’ law meant to facilitate patrilineal societies. If we don’t let women know about sex until their husband ‘takes’ them on their wedding night, we have one more guarantee that she only has kids from one father. If she decides to experiment before her wedding day, we can stone her to death. Can’t get more Sex Negative than stoned to death (unless you start getting into female circumcision, but I’ll spare you).

Sex Positive, making life better for men, women, and everyone in between. What isn’t to like?

Atheist Evangelizing: Something to think about

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As I continue to read and interact with atheists, I’ve found an interesting situation that I’ve wanted to investigate. That is, atheist evangelizing.

If you’ve been an active atheist, politically, you have been approached with the idea that atheism is just another religion. It is a constant in dialog with theists. Likely you’ve heard some form of, “I think atheists are just as religious as any christian.” or maybe the classic, “Atheism is just another belief, they believe there isn’t a god.”

If you hang around religion debates long enough, this is something you have to approach, and it is annoying at best. The grounds for the idea are weak, and meant to make atheism seem like a weak and fanatical position. For the theist, it is important that atheists are seen just as religious as them.

There is another part to this though, and that is the one that interests me today. Atheists have an aversion to spreading their ideas.

If I had to guess, this comes from their history. A tip for my theist brothers and sisters out there, most atheists you meet were once religious, that is how they became atheists. We know our own religion to a degree that we disagree with it, and with that we know the society born from that religion. This often creates a fear of brainwashing, conditioning, and their friend evangelizing.

Any attempt for an atheist to say, ‘I think others should be atheist’, is treated as crossing the line into militant atheism. Now you are violently atheist, ruining the happiness of others, and even your fellow atheists will turn against you. You took a dump in the middle of the atheist bedroom, and it doesn’t matter who you ask, it smells like shit.

This creates a problem for secular groups, humanist groups, atheist groups. When your actions are seen as proselytizing rather than progressiveness, it becomes difficult to get things done.

True, the situation is never as simple as ‘come and be an atheist’. For example, trying to protect women from patriarchal religions by secularizing a society is a complicated task full of metaphorical and sometimes literal landmines. I can tell someone their life sucks because of men, and they may accept that, I could tell them their life sucks because of society, and they will definitely accept that. As soon as you tell someone their life sucks because of their religion, you are the bad guy. Who cares if their religion is why they had to marry their rapist, why they cannot go outside alone, and why they had to undergo painful and nearly deadly rituals, you keep that to yourself Mr. Douche-atheist.

This is all fine and dandy when its just theists deciding to wallow in their own beliefs, but it has a negative effect on atheist communities. That is, we avoid them. The idea of an atheist community is often seen as laughable. Many will say, “Why create a society about what you don’t believe?”

That is a sound attack on the idea, but it is pretty flat, and built on an outsider’s idea of what it means to be an atheist. There are many sections of society where we get together simply because we agree on certain concepts, or wish to be comfortable. In that same way, I could summarize all Black community groups as “Groups dedicated to not being White”, which would be fine enough with me but would be untrue.

When you are an atheist, despite different backgrounds and upbringings, you have certain things in common. Especially ‘ex-theist’ atheists. While the overlap isn’t perfect, most atheist are progressive on social issues, left-leaning, for secularism, and science-minded. That sounds like awesome grounds for a community to me. Even now, as people laugh at the idea of atheist get togethers and groups, atheist social groups on websites spread information about scientific discoveries, give warnings to members about the actions of companies to avoid, and give life advice for difficult times of life (what do you do when a family member dies, how do you handle your wedding if your family is religious?)

There are even a growing number of atheist churches, which I personally think is a little beyond the mark.

But I know that humans need social connections, and I fear what happens if atheists don’t realize that associating with other atheists isn’t ridiculous, it would be healthy.

There may come a time when being atheist is the default of society, where we don’t need to create groups just to be safe around fellow atheists, but that time isn’t now. Don’t laugh, one day you may need an atheist by your side, to remind you that the human connection gets us through the hardest time, and gives birth to the greatest times.

The Curse of the Moderate Christian

The Curse of the Moderate Christian

lds

This is a perfect storm of things that enrage me. Take LGBT issues, cross it with Christian oppression, and sprinkle censorship on top. The only way this could get worse is if someone kicked a puppy on their way out the door.

For those who aren’t here for deep reading, let me summarize the story for you. This guy here, David King, works together with another author, a Michael Jensen, to create a book. Blam, done, book finished, for all I know it is the next great American novel. Fast forward to a publisher finally signing on with them, except they edit the final sentence of Michael’s biography. Three guesses what was in that final sentence, and it wasn’t heil hitler! He mentions his partner, as in he is one of those gays you’re always hearing about. After bringing up the unfortunate bit of censorship, their contract gets dropped altogether.

This is all happening in Utah, of course.

Nothing against Utah (this clause means I’m lying), but it would take a healthy bit of cash to ever get me there. Though I guarantee you it is one of the nicest places in the United States, because Mormons all act like that guy from the Enzyte commercials.

Now this is all bad enough, and David has done (most of) the right thing in standing behind his friend, colleague, and fighting against bigotry. It doesn’t make sense that in this day and age, a publisher would block a writer from telling the truth about who they are. Worse, the reason for the censorship was that it was believed it would hurt sales in particular markets.

Sometimes I call myself a New Atheist, which means now and again I like to look at another human being and describe to them why the things they just said to me are utterly ridiculous. So when I see something like this, my imagination pulls up some Mormon nanny state, where everyone can quietly believe that Jesus is waiting around the corner to make his big return, the big horns are just about the blow, and all those Muslim people they see on TV are just a little confused, and can’t wait to join the Mormon church. No one is really gay, and the only people who have sex before finishing their mission definitely imploded and were never heard from again.

This is me exaggerating, some of the best people I’ve ever known, Mormons. That said, the way they and other Christians act, allows stupid incidents like this to happen.

You may have heard this said before, the silence of the moderates gives permission to the radicals. You may have heard it said about Islamic extremists. The same concept applies.

In the linked blog post, David talks about how this isn’t an act of the LDS church, and that is true. Unfortunately this did happen in the middle of Mormon-ville, and the odds that this wasn’t religiously motivated are slim to none. So when David King goes on to say that not all Mormons think this way, and that some believe theirs is a religion of love, that doesn’t mean much in the face of acts performed in the name of his religion. Cool, you think everything is hunky-dory, and we’ll all go flying into M-space and enjoy our own planets with green alien babes for all (note, this is not what Mormons believe, so don’t comment on it), but when your views are moderate/liberal compared to the central platform of your faith, I have to ask why you still subscribe to that faith at all.

And lets face it, with Mormon tithing, it is a subscription. It is a lot like a gym, but your knees hurt more in the end.

Yes, I understand that every movement will have radicals. Feminists do not have to answer for those who call to kill all men. Atheists do not have to answer for those who want to burn churches (Is this even a thing? I bet). Mormons and Christians alike do not have to answer for the worst among Christianity. Unless, the radicals are using central tenets of that faith or group.

How do you condemn rape and pillaging when your own bible has your god commanding the same? How do you condemn homophobes when your bible says gays are an abomination? It isn’t radicals you are fighting, it is your own faith.

But that is the curse of the moderate; they love the greater faith, and have to take the rape with loving embrace.

This Is Evidence

 

THIS IS EVIDENCE!

The bacon makes sense later, trust me

Humans love proof. We look for it in everything, and do this without consciously thinking about it.

If you find an out of place object, you will look for where it came from, even if you only have the time to glance at your surroundings. We all have a natural urge to seek the truth, we just generally suck at it.

If you’ve been in school at some point, you may have been told, ‘your senses lie to you’. This is true, our body fills in the gaps, throws out guesstimates, and does whatever it must to get the job done. You are a decaying ball of complicated meat-stuff, it just wants to keep running and maybe have a baby or ten, it is easy to placate.

Our personalities, as strange as they are, can be harder to please. When you see something move in the dark, your brain may say ‘Shadow, probably from car lights, back to sleep’, but when you stop and think about it, you aren’t quite pleased with that answer. You don’t have all the facts, and without those facts, anything is possible.

Short of Cthulhu hanging over your bed, tentacle mouth gaping and ready, you have no idea what is creeping just outside of your perception. So when you ‘verify’ every little fact, don’t feel odd. You ask your friend if you really have a certain personality, you ask if someone else saw that, and you ask if others liked this and that. We want to know, to make sure that what we are seeing is functional, that we aren’t going to blink and find ourselves in some nightmarescape with Michael Keaton’s Beatlejuice. 

I mention this because atheists will frequently run into a situation where they ask for evidence, only to receive what is to them not evidence at all. When you are in a conversation with a theist and you ask for proof, any, that could prove the existence of a god, the things you will receive back are often emotional, anecdotal, or inspirational. 

An example, stories of nefarious creatures, instances of divine decision making, or happenings that are unlikely but bring great joy/relief. The obvious response to this is ‘ARE YOU ****ING KIDDING ME?!’ but it often gets communicated as, ‘that isn’t satisfactory evidence, that is anecdotal’.

Here is the rub, my brothers and sisters in atheism, this is evidence for the religious. Not in general, and this blanketous generalization cannot nearly cover their girth, but the point still stands.

Take a look from the other side. Imagine that you have been instructed in the past that a great sense of joy means bacon is nearby. You ignore this at first, but then once while having fun at a party someone sets in front of you a sizzling plate of bacon. A memory clicks in your brain, and you confirm with your gut, you were feeling a deep sense of joy just before that bacon got there. Holy pigbits, there could be something to this baconsense. So you keep it in the back of your mind, but each time bacon is presented to you, you try to confirm if there was or was not a baconsense episode immediately before.

Then the opposite happens, you feel a great sense of joy, but cannot confirm or deny that bacon is in the vicinity. How far does your baconsense go anyway? Maybe there is bacon in the next room, or maybe someone down the street has bacon.

You meet a stranger, you feel that well of pork-power deep inside you, and you have to ask him, “Sir? Have you eaten bacon today?”

He looks at you like you are a maniac, but he confirms he has. “How did you know?”

“I could sense the bacon within you.”

Is it wrong to believe in baconsense in this case? Well, yes. If you looked at it all closely, you could find the faults in your boarish imaginings. Confirmation bias is the easy one, you only think about your baconsense when you are feeling good and there is bacon, but ignore all cases of painbacon. You also ignore all other possibilities to explain your joy, or the obvious answers to why joy and bacon are connected, like the fact that you just like bacon. We could go deeper, like Freudian Inception, the layers of this pork rind go deep.

But if you didn’t know about social conditioning, confirmation bias, or even the deeper psychological and sociological systems at work on a human on a daily basis, it isn’t insane to go with the evidence and accept bacon as your personal joy-bringer.

So what can be done? How do we get people to drop the bacon, I mean drop the gods. The answer isn’t simple, and if you thought a blanket wouldn’t fit above then you haven’t imagined just how fat this problem is. 

If you ask me, the first step is, like always, education. Once you know what is packed inside your bacon, you might have different feelings when you take that first bite.