Religion

The Parable of The Angry Fundamentalist New-Agey Cafeteria Christian

Posted on February 25, 2014. Filed under: Apologetics, Atheism, Atheist Ethics, Humour, Original Sin, Personal, Politics, Religion, Science, Social Justice |

Or Why I Don’t Think Your “Angry Fudamentalist Atheist” Exists, Any More Than I Think A Cogent Argument Exists In Your Article

“I believe that science offers solid evidence for God,” she said- eyes peering over her hot cup of coffee.
Was she engaging me because she knows I’m an atheist blogger, I wondered?

"Coffee Talk"-Image by John LeMasney via lemasney.com

“Coffee Talk”-Image by John LeMasney via lemasney.com

Wendy was the wife of a close friend, who had done me a solid the week before. To express my gratitude, I was treating her to coffee at one of those swanky $10 latte joints. Was she trying to be argumentative? I didn’t want an argument. I flashed a coy smile. “Well, I’m not here to judge your personally held beliefs,” I said, “but for the record, the God you believe in is probably so vague that it is immaterial for us to argue the point,” I was trying to diffuse any hostility and maybe open a dialogue about her confused cafeteria Christianity, since she brought it up. She was having none of it.

“No,” she said leaning forward, “I still believe in the biblical God” her words loud enough to push me back in my chair. I tried to pacify her. “I’m not interested in shadowboxing a vaguely effective but specifically affected triune God. You can self-identify how you please ” I said, trying to avoid the inevitable.

“I believe in all of it!” She was becoming increasingly hostile. I was unsure how to respond. Her husband also identified as Christian, but we’d had a great discussion about skepticism as well as relationships, friends and past experiences on a road trip all the way from Toronto to New York City. As I was parsing a reply she cut me off before I could drop a syllable, “I think science and philosophy prove the Christian God.”

Should I tell her I that science can not and will not vindicate personal faith? That the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, which infers a more dynamic universe than we previously imagined, doesn’t mean what Deepak Chopra thinks it means? That even the loosest allegorical reading of the Bible is entirely inconsistent with what we understand from evolutionary biology and geology, that there is no place for anything more than the most uninterested of Gods as the artistic author of creation- like the man who first created the first rectangular wooden frame taking credit for the Mona Lisa? It seemed she was more interested in contorting her faith into an abstract forgery of science that might look science-y if you tilted your head and squinted really hard from 100 yards. I wondered if she had ever read a peer-reviewed article in her life. I tried my best to explain.

“You know,” I sighed, “There have been so many discoveries in biology and physics in the past hundred and fifty years, it’s a shame that they haven’t been understood by the informed general public. They talk as though we’re still talking about large gaps in knowledge that could as easily be filled by God as by curiosity. Anything more specific than a ‘Prime Mover’ requires increasingly intricate apologetics that render the biblical Word impotent at best and demonstrably false at worst, leaving someone arguing for the bible as The Word Of God–a God who is like a puppeteer pulling strings, controlling the progression of life, saying, ‘I shall redeem you of Original Sin through faith in Me’- without anything more than naked faith in Bronze Age mythology. That’s nutty. That’s not an open mind, that’s creating religious fan fiction”

She broke in. “But God is an awesome God who used scientific laws to bring forth His Creation!”

“Let’s roll with that idea for now,” I interjected, hoping that my concession might stop her from bottling up, “but you must have some immutable traits of the God you believe in. Everyone does, and many Christians have the same concept of what makes their God uniquely Christian. That He felt His creation was perfect. That He created man in His likeness. That we are cursed by His anger. That He is perfectly moral and just- that salvation can come only through belief in Him.  That He performed and continues to perform miracles big and small. Those facts are definitional to your God. If you claim to be a Christian you must choose to ‘believe’ your God possesses these attributes. Yet all of these premises are logically incompatible with each other- and are equally incompatible with what science has shown us.  Imagine what it would be like if you simultaneously agreed that you were a virgin and the mother of your children, and yet that’s exactly the inconsistency of your epistemology!” I chuckled, knowing that she would immediately get the inside joke. I thought the analogy was apt, that it might make her ask more questions. It didn’t.

“The Bible is as much allegorical as literal” she quipped. “I believe that no inconsistencies exist between facts and the Word of God . I told you: I believe that science proves Christianity!” She rhymed off an incoherent word salad of Deepak Chopra buzzwords. She was becoming increasingly agitated. She started to talk about the very personal experiences she had that made her certain of God. I listened. She raised the holocaust as an example of atheism inspired nihilism, along with some horrors that she thought proved Free Will.

I obliged. “I agree there are horrible people in the world.”

“It’s not just people, it’s the wages of sin. But with such a world, how could you deny we need salvation?” she asked. It was an honestly asked but dishonestly pondered question.

I still proceeded as though I was talking to a liberal thinker, open to discussion. I knew her to be quite liberal on other issues, such as politics and sex. So I took a swig of my Venti fair trade Peruvian dark roast and plunged in, “You know, I think I have something insightful to say about this,” I offered. “If a religion is going to take root and spread- it has to have some explanatory value to the people who adopt it.  If a religion said ‘people are always benevolent’ then you could imagine how worthless that religion might be to people seeking an explanation for observed phenomena.  Religions start the same way science does- with an interesting and perplexing question.  The difference is the process used to provide an answer.  Science tests a hypothesis, religion dictates an answer.  We ‘appear’ to be sinful not because we fell from perfection but because we are risen from instinct.”

“I already told you, I think God is necessary for science to work- Who created the laws of nature and physics?” she interrupted. In her head Laws were created for man, man was not a creation of the laws . I stopped. I wanted to ask what she thought science really said about spirituality, the appropriation and perversion of physics, the hijacking of great thinkers like Einstein and Bohm, who would never have imagined their complicated work being obfuscated to lend credibility to the dubious claims of touchy-feely New Age Mystics. I wanted to, but I didn’t because I realized she didn’t want to engage with the questions; she already knew all the answers. She wasn’t interested in an informed and honest discussion. That’s when I realized….

I was talking to a fundamentalist. What I was saying threatened her very identity and construct of life. My coffee shop companion knew that God existed, and by God the knowns are going to fit the narrative whether they require reshaping or not. Most people adjust their beliefs to new evidence, she just makes the evidence sound something like her belief. Where I would adjust my narrative, she would adjust the knowns. I remembered being told that her mother died a few years ago. Clearly she had wrapped that faith around her like a security blanket.

This was not my first time trying to discuss science with a fundamentalist, but every other time they were Young Earth Creationists or Climate Deniers. The whole conversation seemed eerily similar. I was talking to someone who claimed to know exactly how ‘it’ is, who believed in a flexible, infinite, and compassionate universe that was designed to nurture them (despite every available fact in biology, astronomy and physics) and believed it with a kind of pseudoscientific cognitive dissonance as dogmatic as Biblical literalism.

A fundamentalist is not willing to consider the unsettling possibility that the universe is governed by immutable, explainable, and observable rules that require no intervention in order to function.  A fundamentalist will systematically disabuse themselves any part of a fact that might contradict his/her epistemology or faith, be it carbon dating or theoretical physics. A fundamentalist does not want to examine specifics and presuppositions, or really study and understand concepts, scientific or philosophical, that otherwise could be twisted into ignorant half-truths–similar to the bumper sticker slogan of Biblical literalists, “God said it, I believe it, and that settles it.”  The new fundamentalists say “God said it, I wan’t so badly to believe it- that I’ll make the facts agree with it.”

When did Liberal Christians become the new fundamentalists? I have known many Liberal Christians beginning with the Pastor of my past church, who passionately defended the difference between knowledge and faith. But this new breed is different: pompous, unmoved, and belligerent, insistent that science owes them absolution from the sin of blind faith.   These people feel that fundamentalism is the opposite of what they profess, because they have staked out the middle ground. There is no virtue in the middle ground when you are discussing facts- any more than I might call you open minded because I want gays to have equal rights, someone else thinks they should have no rights- and you want to compromise that science recently suggested that “gay” might not even exist. My mind is not blown.  I’m nonplussed. And do you need to be so angry?

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No, The Debate Was Not A Mistake- Stop Saying That

Posted on February 6, 2014. Filed under: Atheism, Children, Politics, Religion, Science |

    I watched the debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham surrounded by new friends.  I actually stumbled across these people in no small part because this debate happened.  A friend of my wife’s on Facebook commented that she might attend- which led to my wife suggesting that this might be an event our 9 year old son might enjoy- which resulted in me confirming my attendance on a Facebook events page that is run by a local atheist group.  Bill Nye helped me discover that my hometown has a fully developed and thriving atheist community that I was somehow completely oblivious to until a few days ago.
This, I suppose, is a lesson in unintended consequences.

   So when I started my morning by recapping what other people thought of the debate with the intention of helping to clarify my own thoughts, I was nye2sympathetic to the opinion of Michael Schulson in The Daily Beast that the debate was a losing proposition from the moment it was brokered.  Facts are not something to be debated.  We shouldn’t be lending credibility to creation myths by juxtaposing them with science. Bill Nye is the wrong person to be representing the scientific argument because he is not an expert on evolution.  This was a common argument before the debate even aired.

On all accounts I think these arguments are wrong.

Academics Don’t Create Policy, But Somehow They Are The Only People Qualified To Talk About Science

    Several people have pointed out that the Creation/Evolution debate is a political issue and not a scientific issue.  I agree with that assessment.  The question I’d like to ask is this:  If people who are passionate about science aren’t going to wade into the political debate over what we teach the next generation- who is going to stand between opportunistic legislators and our children?  Can we just assume that rationality is always going to rule the public stage in opposition to the court of public opinion?

    Bill Nye is right that we need children that understand the scientific method and how proper science is done.  We also need the public to be savvy enough to tell the difference between education and indoctrination. The idea that this debate emboldened creationists by giving them a stage is, I think, demonstrably wrong.  First, you need to assume that all creationists are Young Earth Creationists (YECs).  Then you need to assume that YECs aren’t already aware of Answers In Genesis, the Creation Museum, or Ken Ham.  This is akin to going up to your nerdiest friend and telling them about this great new Star Trek series called “The Next Generation”.  This debate didn’t bring new attention to Young Earth Creationism to the target audience for Young Earth Creationism.  It brought new attention to YEC to exactly the people we need to see it- the large swath of Christian and other religious parents who think of Intelligent Design or Guided Evolution or some other pseudo-scientific concept when they imagine “teaching the controversy“.  These people are embarrassed by people like Ken Ham.  They know the earth isn’t 6000 years old, and they understand just how impossible it is to square that belief with observable phenomena.  These are the people who are going to be moved by this debate.  To assume that all people sympathetic to anti-evolutionary ideas are sympathetic to a literal reading of Genesis is a mistake.  Many of those people will be moved by just how absurd it is to teach YEC as science.  Some of these people might change their view about science education when faced with the prospect of science class becoming a strict literal interpretation of the first book of the Old Testament.  

    In this regard, I think that Ken Ham is exactly the kind of person those of us who care about science should debate. He is an extremist, a fundamentalist, an outlier even in Christian circles.  Too many of us feel that Bill should have avoided giving Ken Ham a platform- when in fact that platform has already started to lay bare the deep divide among creationists.  Pat Robertson has already called on Ham to “not make a joke of ourselves.”  Inside the bubble of Young Earth Creationism, the idea of a 6000 year old creation and a big boat that held 10,000 animals while the entire world was flooded for a year seems perfectly reasonable.  They think that people just need to see the evidence the way they do and everyone will be forced to concede the truth of their beliefs.  It is the people outside this bubble that Bill needed to speak to, and I think he did that marvelously.

Bill Nye Is Exactly What We Need

nye1    To the degree that I think Ken Ham is exactly the kind of creationist that science educators need to draw attention to, I think people like Bill Nye are exactly the kind of person we need doing it.  We need people who are teachers and communicators.  We need people who aren’t going to go on tangents about overly dry and technical aspects of evolutionary theory when simple and focused arguments suffice.  We need people who aren’t going to waste their whole half hour talking about the philosophy of science when someone tries to make the ridiculous distinction between observational science and historical science.  We need the kind of people who say “there are trees older than you think the universe is.”  We need people who can make radio waves and the big bang something I can explain to my 9 year old son.  We need someone who can Gish Gallop with easily digestible facts that are memorable and funny.  

     Many otherwise smart people have claimed that this debate was worthless and they avoided it because neither speaker had the authority to talk about evolution.  Public opinion isn’t decided by experts.  Policy isn’t made by experts.  Hell, High School Biology class isn’t taught by experts.    This wasn’t an academic debate and if it was it would have swayed virtually nobody involved in the future of science education.  To be blunt, one of the problems in the divide over public science education is that it seems to be difficult for people to grasp the basics of evolutionary theory.  Policy will be shaped by ignorance and incredulity if we fail to take interest in education.  If the Bible denied that there are integers above 20,000, we wouldn’t insist that only those with a degree in theoretical mathematics argue with theologians.  We would send in Warren Buffet and the Manager at TGI Friday’s to compare their purchasing power.  When we want people to understand how simply wrong a proposition is, we need people who can speak in terms laypersons can not just grasp but easily internalize.  Bill Nye is a brilliant science educator, and he was the perfect person to take on a science obfuscator.  
The public is not going to get energized nor swayed by academic debates on the minutiae of evolution.  They are going to be easily confused until some charlatan shows up to reassure them.

    I think it is insulting to assume that all Christians are going to be moved by a literal six-day creation argument, and I think it’s ignorant to assume that there were no viewers who had positions that could be influenced by a clear and concise argument that science is the best way do science.  Many people approached the prospect of this debate with a hyper-simplistic view of those who don’t accept biological evolution whole cloth.  It is precisely this kind of superiority complex and lack of understanding that is going to stoke the fires of people who wish to sneak religion into science.  

    We are so busy thinking about the possibility that Christians are naive and easily duped that we fail to see that, more likely than not, the unintended consequence of this debate is a popular rebuke of literal six-day creation among the larger Christian community- the people who vote, who sit on Parent/Teacher Associations, who choose curriculum guidelines.  
I found a community as an unintended consequence of a well marketed, elegantly argued, and entertaining debate about evolution- and I think that it will have the opposite consequence for Young Earth Creationists.  Showing reasonable people what God in science class might really mean will make the fringe increasingly isolated. 

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“I Turned Out Just Fine” Part I- Spanking IS Assault.

Posted on January 3, 2014. Filed under: Atheism, Atheist Ethics, Children, Parenting, Personal, Politics, Religion, Social Justice |

Spanking children is assault.
It’s not “technically not assault” or “similar to assault“- it is assault.

Image credit: HA! Designs/Creative Commons

Image credit: HA! Designs/Creative Commons

If you physically discipline your child in a way that would be legally assault if you did it to me or any other adult- then you have assaulted your child.

This is not “poisoning the well” for a discussion of spanking.  This is a plain definition of what it is.  In many jurisdictions spanking doesn’t meet the legal definition of assault- but it fulfills every characteristic of “assault” that we would apply to the agreed use of the word.  The only thing that changes “reasonable discipline” to “assault” is the relationship of the victim to his/her attacker and not being old enough to have a reasonable right to personal security.
I’ll say that again: Our society has a magical age at which you have a reasonable right to personal security.

Before you reach this magical age, you still have- in most every jurisdiction in the Western world- this right unless your attacker happens to be your parent.  If it is a teacher?  Assault.  If it is a coach?  Assault.  The parent of a friend? Assault.

If I say to you “My child spoke back to me so I bent them over my knee and smacked their ass with an open hand”- that statement is totally fine, legally permissible and called “spanking”
If I change “My child” to “My wife”, or “My employee”- it is assault.
If I change “My child” to “My prisoner” (if I were a jail guard), or “My student” (if I were a teacher), or “My perpetrator” (if I were a police officer)- it is assault.

For crying out loud….if I change “My” to “Your”- it is bloody well assault.

What is it about being a parent that allows you to be justified in doing something that is assault if you do it to anybody else?  What is it about the legal definition of “parent” that absolves you of wrongdoing if you spank YOUR child, as opposed to SOMEBODY ELSE’S child?

Most of my posts are long, well researched and thoroughly argued cases for a view I hold.  This time, I would like to give people the opportunity to argue why I am wrong and our culture is right on this issue before I write my follow up post.  I will follow this up with a post on why I think spanking is counterproductive, potentially harmful, unreasonable and should be outlawed.  For the time being, I want to defend solely my position that whether it is a useful tool, whether it is helpful, whether “good” parents are “strict” parents- spanking is assault for anybody but parents spanking underage children, and consequently that there is nothing magical about “parents” that absolves them from this definition.

Links to follow up posts will be added to this article as necessary, and I have a possible “guest post” from a blogger who disagrees.
Feel free to post arguments for or against here or on my Facebook.

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On Marriage, Part 2: Whereby I Explain Why Marriage Matters

Posted on April 13, 2013. Filed under: Atheism, Forward Thinking, Personal, Religion |

This is Part 2 of my two part contribution to the Forward Thinking project  on this months topic “What Does Marriage Mean To You?”  The Forward Thinking Project is an amazing online community project started by Libby Anne of Love, Joy, Feminism and Daniel Finke of Camels With Hammers.  For more information or how you can contribute click on the links above.

Part 1 is a satirical imagined conversation between a father and son regarding the meaning of marriage. This post is my personal views on what marriage- and specifically my marriage- means to me.

Forward-Thinking-3-1024x253

I’m married to the most complex, wonderful and beautiful woman I know.  My wife is my saviour and my nemesis.  If  Paul was right when he spoke in Corinth- that love is patient, love is kind, it is not proud;  love protects, trusts, perseveres- then it is true that my wife is the embodiment of love in my life.

To be honest with you, neither my wife nor I really wanted get married.  We lived together for 6 years before we were married.  We already had two children (and a third on the way).  We owned a house together.  In every way that someone quantifies marriage as a lifestyle, we had been married for years before we ever made it “official”.

So why get married?

We- my wife and I- asked ourselves this question.  Are we somehow bowing to social pressure?  Are we quantifying our relationship by a social convention?  Is there any real value to choosing to be married as opposed to living as a married couple?  For us marriage was still something that was meaningful- and I’ll tell you why:

Marriage is more than just a social convention.  It is more than a legal recognition of your bond to one another.  It is not a mere contract, a religious act, or a promise to some imagined covenant with God.  It is what it has always been; marriage is the sharing of your love with your family, community, and friends.  Some choose to share that with their community in religious imagery and language, some choose to make that expression in a way that is unique and personal.  What all marriages have in common is that they are a recognizable symbol of something that transcends the institution itself.

To be unmarried is not to take away from the reality of being in love, or committed, or together- to be unmarried is merely to deprive us of our cultural language-

  It is to ask us to succinctly describe a sunset…..

to a blind man……

in sign language.

So when I tell you I am married it doesn’t change the way I feel about the person I chose to marry.  It doesn’t make my love any more or less real.   It doesn’t make my love and commitment any better- objectively- than a couple who chose not to be married.  What it does it make my relationship relateable.  It makes my relationship something that has a meaning easily shared with others.   When I tell you I’m married I am giving you a dissertation in a single word.

I started this post by telling you how I feel about my wife; all of it is true, and more.  I could have written a million metaphors and I still wouldn’t have given my wife her due.  Though my words remind me of all the things that make me love her, they certainly constitute a too-long explanation to you of how we relate to one another.  All you need to know is what we all know to be the ideals of a marriage:

I love her enough to make her my wife- our love is that meaningful that we choose to share it.

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On Marriage, Part 1: Whereby a Father Explains Marriage To His Son In A Conservative Dystopia

Posted on April 13, 2013. Filed under: Atheism, Forward Thinking, Humour, Parenting, Personal, Religion |

This is Part 1 of my two part contribution to the Forward Thinking project  on this months topic “What Does Marriage Mean To You?”  The Forward Thinking Project is an amazing online community project started by Libby Anne of Love, Joy, Feminism and Daniel Finke of Camels With Hammers.  For more information or how you can contribute click on the links above.

Part 1 is a satirical imagined conversation between a father and son regarding the meaning of marriage.  For my personal feelings on what marriage means to me, please check out Part 2.

Forward-Thinking-3-1024x253

Son:  Dad, What is Marriage?

Father: Oh boy.  Is it really that time already?  I’ve been dreading “the talk” since the day you were born…..

Son: Really Dad?  You are aware that I am seventeen, right?  I mean, I thought that “the talk” was about sex and stuff- we never had that talk either……

Father:  And we never will, son; we never will.  Sex is a conversation you need to have after an awkward and humiliating honeymoon with your equally clueless wife.  It’s the way God intended.

Son: I did hear a bit about it from friends at school.  Well, the ones who got permission from their parents to attend the “Commitment Classes” that the Priest came in for.  Why didn’t I get permission to go to that again?

Father: He was Catholic and I didn’t want you to start questioning the degree of your depravity, I thought we went over this.  Can we get back to marriage?

Son: Sure.

Father: You see, son, as we all know- the government owns a woman’s vagina.  One day, when you are older and ready to breed, you are going to meet a woman who makes you want to pray a little harder to Jesus for the strength to overcome sexual sin- and this is the time you are going to contemplate marriage.  When you are ready, you will complete a three way transaction between the woman’s father (her owner), the government (the owner of her vagina), and yourself (the prospective owner and lessee).  Essentially you are seeking a licence from the government to transfer ownership from her father to yourself as well as secure a lease of the woman’s vagina from the government.  My wedding was beautiful…..

Son:  That doesn’t sound all that beautiful, dad.

Father: But it is, son, it is!  There is nothing better than a wedding- it’s one of those “milestone moments” in your life- like showing off your first muscle car to your buddies.  You wax her all up, get’er real shiny, then burn rubber around the neighbourhood to let everyone know who’s got a new set of wheels….

Son: Are you talking about Mom?

Father: Sorry, got carried away.  Did I ever tell you I had a ’74 Charger with a 318? God I loved that car…….

Son:  Don’t people get married for love?

Father:  No! Who told you that?  Love has nothing to do with marriage.  Just think about it- if you could just marry ANYTHING you loved, then men would just go around marrying their favourite dog, or their mom, or even another man!  Heck, I’d be married to a ’74 Charger.    Love is just a pleasant bonus in a marriage, like finding a $10 bill in a pair of jeans you bought at the Goodwill.

Son: So you didn’t love mom when you married her?

Father:  Is she in the room right now? ….Yes, of course I did.  Love can be something to consider when you get married- I’m just saying it isn’t definitional to a marriage.  People who don’t love each other get married all the time.

Son: Then why do they read 1Corinthians at weddings?

Father:First, Paul wasn’t writing that about marriage.  Second, you remember when you were a kid and you had a dental appointment that you didn’t want to go to, so I told you there was candy in the car so that you would go with me- and then I bought you a Blizzard afterwards because I felt guilty for lying to you?   It’s kind of like that.  And by “kind of like that” I mean it’s exactly like that.

Son:  This is all quite confusing and depressing, Dad.  I don’t think I want to get married…

Father: I know son.  I blame the liberals.  Do you want to see pictures of me with my ’74 Charger?

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Taking the Camels With Hammers Civility Pledge

Posted on February 13, 2013. Filed under: Atheism, Atheist Ethics, Internet Etiquette, Personal, Politics, Pro-Choice, Pro-Life, Religion, Social Justice |

I would like it if all of my readers read this pledge- and if those that were in agreement that civility is the key to productive discourse would sign it.  I worked with Dan Finke and several other bloggers to help craft this pledge (though admittedly I didn’t contribute a fraction of the time or energy that Dan and others did).   I think that the rules laid out here are important; I believe that if we wish to have constructive dialogue that focuses on ideas and doesn’t devolve into nasty epithets and hard feelings- then we ought to all support this effort. 

I normally would link to the original post and let my readers read the full text there, but since I was

Artwork by Steve Greenberg- Click for link

Artwork by Steve Greenberg- Click for link

part of the group that worked on the pledge and Dan has generously offered to allow it reprinted verbatim- I have decided to print it in its entirety here (including all links that reference Dan’s fantastic posts on these subjects at CWH).  I would like to have it handy so that I can link to it when people commenting here step out of line and also so that I have a standard to be personally accountable to.  

I hope you read the pledge, sign it here or at CWH, and share it if you agree.

-George-

————————————————————————————————————————————————-

 

“THE CAMELS WITH HAMMERS CIVILITY PLEDGE”

by Daniel Fincke

 

Reasons for the Pledge:

I want to be able to engage in vigorous, rigorous, constructive, and truth-conducive public discussions about both the most philosophically fundamental and the most vitally urgent questions related to beliefs and values.

For truth’s sake and for freedom’s sake, I want no controversial topics to be made taboo in all discussion forums and I want no disputable propositions whatsoever to be shielded from all sincere and thorough rational interrogation. I accept that either my beliefs and values, including those I that myself cherish the most, can prove themselves against vigorous, sincere, rational skepticism and challenge, or that they need to be modified or abandoned.

I want to argue for what I think is true and good without hesitating over concerns that my views are too unpopular or unpleasant, and I want others to feel free to do the same.

I want periodically to publicly reexamine my own beliefs and values for any possible errors they may contain, and to critically examine others’ ideas until I am adequately satisfied with them before feeling like I have to endorse or adopt them.

I even may want the latitude of intellectual honesty to test ugly ideas that neither I nor most others even want to believe. I may want to do this so that we can thoroughly understand exactly why, or whether, such ideas are indeed as false as we would hope, or are as pernicious as we presume. It is important that rational people of good will have well-developed reasons, rather than just dogmatic moral condemnation, with which to answer the false and pernicious ideas of irrational, ill-willed, and bigoted people. This means rational people of good will should at least sometimes open-mindedly explore hypotheses that they or others may find morally or intellectually upsetting, and that they have the room to do this without being demonized.

I realize that a huge obstacle to honest, thoroughgoing, and challenging public inquiries into the rightness of beliefs and values of the most fundamental importance and urgency is our shared natural tendencies to take abstract criticisms personally. I realize another huge obstacle is that most people naturally are tempted to become more dogmatically committed to their existing positions precisely when presented with potentially unsettling counter-arguments. I realize that in most cases these and related problematic tendencies are only exacerbated, rather than alleviated, when we explicitly or implicitly turn abstract intellectual inquiries into interpersonally hostile confrontations.

I also realize that attempts to bully people into agreement with me by taking recourse to interpersonally aggressive treatment are antithetical to a principled commitment to respecting other people’s rationality and freedoms of intellectual conscience. Even where such appeals are successful, they come at a moral cost that should be seen as unacceptable to people committed to reason. I should want to persuade others into genuinely justified agreement with the best arguments and the most fair and relevant emotional appeals, rather than socially, emotionally, politically, or physically coerce them into acquiescence. Outside of the most extreme life and death circumstances, I should not consider the cause of winning people to my side philosophically or politically to be so important that I am willing to treat others abusively.

It is, in the vast majority of cases, unethical to verbally abuse or otherwise attempt to emotionally bully others, no matter how right I might feel myself to be or how cathartic I might find the experience. Self-righteousness is a dangerous, blinding temptation. It leads to hypocritical double-standards, remorseless cruelty, smugness, authoritarianism, and false beliefs held with self-satisfaction. Worst of all, self-righteousness tempts us to become like the hateful people we start out opposing. So I should foreswear and guard against self-righteousness as conscientiously and with as much regular self-examination as possible. I should never consider myself to be so much better or righter than others that I see them as worthy of maltreatment and myself as morally pure enough to mete out their punishments of my own initiative.

found at demotivationalposters.net

found at demotivationalposters.net

I understand also that I am not perfect. I may not have always lived up to the highest standards of civility, compassion, or rationality in the past. I may struggle as much as anyone else to do so in the future. Nonetheless, I resolve to the best of my ability to make the commitments in the pledge below in order to ensure that I am as constructive and ethical a participant in public discussions as possible, and to live as consistently according to my professed belief in the intellectual and moral worth of reason, freedom, and compassion as possible.

 

The Pledge:

1. I commit that I will engage in all public arguments with a sincere aim of mutual understanding, rather than only persuasion.

I will make being honest, rationally scrupulous, and compassionate my highest priorities. I will conscientiously remain open to new ideas. I will consider the well being and growth of my interlocutors more important than whether they simply agree with me at the end of our exchanges. I am under no obligation to respect false or harmful beliefs or to hold back from expressing my own views or reservations forthrightly. I may even express them with passion and conviction where such are justifiable. Compatible with this, I will always respect my interlocutors as people and their rights to express their own views without personal abuse, even when I find myself riled up by them. I will cut off communications that are counter-productive to others’ well being or my own. I will respect others’ attempts to bow out of debates on particular topics or with me in particular. If I feel that I am in a position where my anger and frustration at the behavior of others, even entirely legitimate anger and frustration, is making the conversation less capable of constructive progress, I will remove myself and come back only at such time as I can be constructive again.

 

2. I commit that I will tolerate the existence of people with dissenting ethical, religious, or political views.

I will focus on understanding and appreciating what actual goods my philosophical or political enemies may be mistakenly trying to achieve and what genuinely occurring features of their experience they are inadequately trying to do justice to in their false beliefs. I will try to discern and appreciate what genuinely valuable moral and intellectual principles they intend to stand up for, no matter how wrong I think their ultimate ethical or factual conclusions might be. Wherever possible, I will try to find and affirm their good will, reasonableness, and any other potential sources of common ground, and work from there in order to persuade them of what I take to be their errors. If this proves impossible, I will simply stop engaging them directly and attack their ideas in the abstract, rather than make things acrimoniously personal.

 

3. I commit that I will always focus first on the merits of other people’s arguments and not disparage them personally for asking unpleasant questions, taking unpleasant positions, or simply disagreeing with me.

I will not assume the worst of all possible motives when people advance theses that I find false, morally repugnant, and/or potentially harmful. I will refute their arguments on their merits. I will discuss with them any harmful real world implications that I think would come from the promulgation or implementation of their ideas. I will not accuse them of wanting to perpetuate evils unless there is specific evidence that their ends are actually so malicious. I will try not to personalize intellectual disputes any more than is absolutely necessary. I will keep any personal fights that erupt limited to as few people as possible rather than incorporate more and more people into them.

When I am having a personality conflict that is making progress in understanding seem impossible, I will drop communications with that person–with or without explanation as seems most potentially constructive. I will not escalate unproductive arguments that are becoming interpersonally acrimonious. I will not participate in ongoing interpersonal feuds between other people but only participate in discussions that stay focused on what is true, what the best principles are, and how such principles may be most fairly and efficiently implemented in the world. I will correct injustices, bad principles, and bad ideas in ways that are maximally productive for changing minds and real world policies while also minimally likely to create or escalate distracting counter-productive interpersonal feuds.

 

4. When I feel it necessary to call out what I perceive to be the immoral behaviors or harmful attitudes of my interlocutors, I commit that I will do so only using specific charges, capable of substantiation, which they can contest with evidence and argumentation, at least in principle. I will not resort to merely abusive epithets and insult words (like “asshole” or “douchebag”) that hatefully convey fundamental disrespect, rather than criticize with moral precision.

I will refrain from hurling hateful generalized abusive epithets and insults at people. I will refrain from leveling vague, unsubstantiated charges of terribleness at people. I will give them fair opportunities to explain themselves. I will challenge the wrongness of their specific actions or apparent attitudes rather than hastily cast aspersions on their entire character. Before ever making moral accusations, I will civilly warn them that something they do or say strikes me as morally wrong and offensive, and explain to them why.  I will give them a chance to retract, restate, and/or apologize before taking moral offense. I will analyze with self-directed skepticism whether my offense is rooted in a morally justifiable anger at provably unjust treatment, or whether it is just my discomfort with being disagreed with.

I will always seek to maintain positive rapport with those who disagree with me as much as they enable. I will focus my criticisms on people’s ideas first and only if necessary criticize their attitudes, behaviors, or apparent character. I will not demean them fundamentally as a person. I will not uncharitably and hastily leap from specific bad thoughts, attitudes, or actions to wholesale disparagements of their entire character until there is overwhelming evidence that I am dealing with a fundamentally immoral person. And if I am dealing with such a person, I will use any of a wide array of highly specific available words

to make moral charges soberly, constructively, descriptively accurately, and succinctly as possible before cutting off communications with them. And I will not take unnecessary recourse to abusive terms when plenty of civil and accurate words carrying heavy moral force are available to me.

 

5. I commit that I will go out of my way, if necessary, to remember that members of traditionally marginalized groups and victims of abuse have experiences that I may not have and which I may have to strain to properly weigh and appreciate.

People who have been personally abused or systemically discriminated against in ways that I have not may also be acutely aware of a social power differential with respect to me of which I may be unaware. This may make them feel frustrated and intimidated from speaking frankly, as well as more sensitized to potentially silencing and Othering implications of my language and ideas. I will be as sensitive to this reality as possible and as careful as possible with my language to reduce rather than exacerbate their feelings of social disempowerment. I also will take into account and accommodate the reality that people with high personal stakes in the outcomes of certain debates about values are, quite understandably, more prone to emotional intensity in their arguments and especially likely to bring unique insights that are indispensible to understanding the issue adequately.

Of course none of this means I should feel compelled to surrender my own rational right and need to independently and rigorously assess what anyone says for its truth or goodness. I should not feel compelled to always and unconditionally agree with someone who has an experience or life situation different from my own. And I should not pretend to already fully accept beliefs or values of which I have not yet been satisfyingly convinced. I should also not tolerate normalization of emotional appeals of the kind that cross the line into bullying. But nonetheless, I will be extra cautious to learn from traditionally marginalized people about what disparately affects them in negative ways and about how to make discourses and other environments more inclusive to them. I will pay close attention to how hostile environments are implicitly created that exclude, silence, or otherwise adversely affect traditionally marginalized people, especially under the aegis of a perniciously false neutrality.

On the other side, I will also be sensitive to preempt counter-productively defensive feelings and reactions of people in traditionally advantaged groups by carefully avoiding even the appearance of prejudicially disparaging them all as malicious oppressors. I will distinguish carefully between those motivated by animus and those who are in the main only passive beneficiaries and unwitting perpetuators of injustices, or biased in unintentional and unexamined ways. When rightly calling out such injustices and prejudices I will frame my criticisms and calibrate my level of antagonism with respect to how generally good or ill willed my interlocutor actually is. I will scrupulously distinguish criticisms of harmful systems from criticisms of individuals. I will criticize harmful behaviors without hastily assuming people have malicious intentions or morally repugnant character. I will always respect others’ rights to disagree with me, regardless of their race, color, creed, sexual orientation, gender identity, abilities, disabilities, sex, and unearned privileges (or lack thereof). I will avoid all disparagement of people based on such core identity-forming traits, whether it be disparagement aimed at members of groups with lesser or greater social power. I will neither flippantly nor seriously disparage people based on such kinds of traits or try to invalidate their experiences, even should I think that they are misinterpreting the significance of their experiences, or even should I believe they are more advantaged than most people and should be able to take harsher treatment on that account.

 

6. I commit that I will not use any language that I know is offensive to either a subset of a marginalized group or to members of that group at large, for whatever reason.

I will not use racial or ethnic slurs (like “nigger” or “kike”), gendered insults (like “bitch”, “dick”, “cunt”, “slut”), homophobic slurs (like “fag”), or transphobic slurs (like “tranny”). Regardless of my private standards or understandings I have with my friends or customs within my local culture, in public forums I will respect that such terms make at least a noticeable number of members of marginalized groups feel hated and unwelcome. This risks silencing them in unjust ways. I will err on the side of caution and maximum inclusion by removing such words from my public discourse as superfluous, potentially harmful, exclusionary, and counter-productive to my goals of rational persuasion. The English language is huge; I can find countless better words to use.

 

7. I commit that I will not use any ableist language that disparages people over physical or mental limitations or illnesses.

I will not falsely imply that people are in the main uneducable or incapable of rationality simply because they either disagree with me, have major intellectual blindspots, make huge intellectual errors, or prove generally unlearned in some specific area. This means that I will not call my interlocutors “retarded”, “stupid”, “idiotic”, “deranged”, or similar terms that convey with contemptuous hostility that I believe them beneath reasoning with and beneath treating as an equal, simply on account of what I take to be some major errors or areas of ignorance. All people can learn. All people can teach. Specific intellectual limitations, errors, and/or ignorance of a particular area of knowledge do not amount to “stupidity”.

Calling people stupid is not only usually false and woefully imprecise, but it threatens to hatefully discourage people from learning and to destroy the hope for dialogue with them. It also disrespects the undereducated (many of whom are financially disadvantaged or otherwise socially disadvantaged and disempowered) and makes them justifiably resentful. For some it continues a pattern of abuse suffered from parents, peers, partners, and others in their lives who damaged them during childhood and have harmfully misled them to underestimate their actual intellectual potential. It also irrationally ignores the reality that all of us are regularly victims of cognitive biases and institutionally inculcated deceptionsthat to a large extent account for their errors. They deserve education, not derision.

My interlocutors and I will both learn more if I try to understand the rationally explicable reasons for their errors and figure out how to most effectively correct them. I will also learn more if I conscientiously try to think up and refute the best arguments for my opponents’ views rather than seize on their arguments’ weaknesses and dismiss them categorically as “stupid”. I can point out the nature of mistakes more precisely, and with better hope of correcting them, if I engage in thinking together with people rather than disparaging and bullying them.

 

8. I commit that I will always argue in good faith and never “troll” other people. I will respect both safe spaces and debate spaces and the distinctly valuable functions each can potentially serve. I will not disrupt the functioning of either kind of forum.

I will respect that some venues are designed to be safe places for members of marginalized groups or abused people to seek refuge from abuse and certain forms of disagreement that they are, for good reason, not emotionally able to deal with. I will respect that these, and other venues designed for people with a shared ideological or philosophical disposition, are valuable. It is constructive to have some spaces where likeminded people can work out their views amongst themselves without always having to be distracted by calls for them to defend themselves on fundamental points.

I will not deliberately troll or otherwise attempt to disrupt forums that exclude me on such grounds. If they refuse debates with people of my philosophical views, then I will not try to participate in their venue. On the flipside, if I desire to make a certain conversation or forum, even a public one, into a safe space where some types of arguments are not permitted, I will make that clear as early as possible. And if I am engaged in a debate in a public forum not designated as a safe space, I will accept that not everyone present is going to share my basic beliefs, knowledge base, values, or concerns, and I will not treat them with hostility on account of their disagreement with me about fundamental matters.

Regardless of forum, if I decide to play devil’s advocate in hopes that it will help make a position’s merits clearer to me, I will be upfront about what I am doing so that I do not come off as obstinate or excessively antagonistic or in any other way a disingenuous “troll”. I will desist if others do not want me to play devil’s advocate to them whether because they find it badgering or trivializing of something important to them or for any other reason.

 

9. I commit that I will apologize when I hurt others’ feelings, even when I do so unintentionally and even when I do not think their hurt feelings are justified.

If I want to defend my actions or contest the moral justifiability of an outraged person’s feelings of offense, I will do so respectfully and always with an aim of mutual understanding. I commit to not treating those who accidentally upset or offend me as though they intentionally did so. I will accept sincere apologies that take adequate responsibility without requiring groveling and total surrender on all points of contention (especially if some matters at stake are distinctly separable from the offense and are rationally disputable). I will foster environments in which people feel comfortable expressing when their feelings are hurt because everyone regularly offers, and receptively takes, constructive criticisms. This happens where criticism is regularly free of hatred, demonization, and implicit or explicit purity tests and threats of ostracism. So I will oppose all such things.

 

10. I commit that I will hold my allies and myself to the highest standards of civil, good-willed, compassionate, and reason-based argumentation and ethical conduct, regardless of whether our enemies do the same, and regardless of the rectitude of our cause.

I will not defensively interpret sincere criticism from my allies as personal betrayal. I will be as above reproach as possible with respect to all charges of bullying, feuding, escalation, bad faith argumentation, ad hominem tactics, well-poisoning, trolling, marginalization, strawmanning, sock puppetry, tribalism, purity testing, sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, classism, ableism, goading, micro-aggressiveness, passive aggressiveness, and personalization of disputes. While not compromising my intellectual conscience for the sake of politeness, I will manage to model a conciliatory and reasonable spirit. While I may advocate forthrightly for ethical debate and treatment of others generally, I will spend as much or more of my energies scrutinizing my own public contributions for ways I can make them more rational, civil, compassionate, and persuasive than I will policing the behaviors of others I encounter.

 

11. I commit that I will not make accusations of guilt by association.

I will neither assume that one’s association with another person implies agreement with any specific belief, action, or behavior of that person, and nor will I assume that someone’s agreement with another person on a specific point implies agreements on any other specific points. I will hold people accountable only for their own expressed views and not for the views of everyone with whom they associate. I also will not assume total agreement and endorsement of all the ideas in books, thinkers, or links that someone recommends as interesting.

 

12. I commit that I will not use mockery and sarcasm in ways that try to belittle other people.

I recognize funny and perceptive satire’s indispensible and unique abilities to illumine truths and rationally persuade people. And I feel free to humorously point out apparent absurdities in others’ arguments or beliefs during discussions. But I will draw the line at using humor to personally attack, harass, or silence individuals with whom I am engaged. I will be cautious that my ridicule during discussions is aimed squarely at beliefs and does not have the likely effect of making my interlocutors feel like I am flippantly contemptuous of their reasoning abilities en toto or of their worth as people. In short, I will use humor to challenge and persuade others, rather than to abuse and alienate them.

 

13. I commit that I will empathetically, impartially, and with reasonable mercy enforce the standards of civility and compassion laid out in this pledge in any venues (including but not limited to: blogs, Facebook pages, subreddits, and discussion forums) where I have moderation powers with sufficient latitude to set and enforce standards.

Even in safe spaces where debates on certain kinds of topics are understandably restricted for people’s well being, I will still adhere to all the rest of the principles of compassion, charity, and civility in arguments here laid out.

 

Signed,

Daniel Fincke

George Waye

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Meaning In A Time Of Mourning: Secular Celebration of a Life Well Lived

Posted on January 30, 2013. Filed under: Atheism, Atheist Ethics, Forward Thinking, Parenting, Personal, Religion |

This post is my contribution to the Forward Thinking project, an amazing online community project started by Libby Anne of Love, Joy, Feminism and Daniel Finke of Camels With Hammers.  For more information or how you can contribute click on the links above.  The topic of interest this time is “Mourning Death Collectively”.

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When my Grandfather passed away two years ago, I sat in the chapel of the funeral home where his service was held and listened to a Minister deliver a eulogy to a man he had never met.  My Grandfather was not a religious man- at least not in my lifetime.  He was clever, kind, jovial, and gentle; he was the kind of man that made a room light up with his presence.  He never talked about God, and he never went to church.

The Minister did an admirable job of ducking and weaving; he recounted the life of a man who left so much love in the hearts of those he touched, a man whose life had purpose and meaning, a man whose life seemed bursting with grace and bereft of God.

The Minister had clearly done his homework; he had spent several hours during the days leading up to the service talking to several of the friends and relatives who would be in attendance.  He had cornered me on the day of the funeral- asking me to share the memories I had and the things I might miss most now that my Grandfather was gone.  He listened attentively to the stories of going to visit my Grandpa on the farm he had worked at when I was little; how I was thrown ten feet by a sheep that took exception to my petting her lamb.  Stories of him taking me up to the top story of the barn to look through all the arched doors, stained glass and cast iron fixtures collected over a lifetime of renovating century homes and landmarks with his construction company, of giving me my sense of wonder and a love of architecture and history.  What I would miss most about my Grandpa, I said, was how he would always have a magic trick or two to show us when we sat around drinking coffee; he would confound everyone with his sleight of hand, showing us the same trick over and over as we tried desperately to figure out how he did it.

During the eulogy, the Minister recalled this story of my Grandfather and the magic tricks.  Being the rhetorical magician that most Ministers are, he took the moment to try and teach us a faith lesson about how a man can be so close to the beauty of religion without ever actually expressing it in words.  The Minister seized upon this moment, telling us all that here was a man who loved the mystery- who embraced the illusion; here was a man who saw that there was something more to things than what lies at the surface.  Isn’t that what faith is about?  Isn’t it about trusting that there are reasons that lie beneath everything that we see, even when it is not visible to the eye?

There was a part to the story of my Grandpa and his magic tricks that the Minister had left noticeably absent from his retelling.  The reason I liked those tricks was that after frustrating over so many of the solutions, and admittedly solving very few of them on my own, my Grandpa would show me how it was done.  He would slow it down, take special care to make me aware of his hands and what they were doing- and expose the illusion as just that: an illusion.  My Grandfather loved the mystery, yes.  What I want to think he valued more was watching me solve the puzzle; he wanted me to look past the surface and see that there was no magic there other than what he had wanted me to see.  I like to think that my Grandfather did much to train my mind to break an illusion down into simple, explainable steps and not get caught up in what seemed to be the implausible.

Maybe this Minister thought that in a moment of grief that none of us would give much thought to what can only be described as the worst analogy ever.  Maybe he thought it was just a cute segue from a personal story to the conciliatory platitudes of his faith.  I wanted to laugh.  I thought to myself that my Grandfather had played one last sleight of hand that day- he had let a rhetorical magician build an illusion; he watched as I carefully examined the sleight of hand and exposed the trick.  My Grandfather respected illusions, but he always wanted you to be in on the sleight of hand.

As we gather together to celebrate the lives of those who are close to us, it will increasingly be the case that we will have these confused mash-ups of religious tradition and secular culture.  Funerals are, of course, for the living and not for the dead.  At this moment in time we have families and communities that are not, as we were perhaps a half century ago, religious monoliths.  It was the case with my Grandfather that his funeral was religious more because the people who planned it were religious and not because he would have wanted it that way.  I was in the minority in that room, and I’m in some sense glad that the Minister was able to balance those religious platitudes with an honest acknowledgement that my Grandfather was not one to suffer religious hand-wringing.  Increasingly though, there will be more and more people like me who are grieving more and more people like my Grandpa.  As our society shifts farther toward the irreligious, those traditional ceremonies will be increasingly less relevant to both the mourners and the memory of those being mourned.  The religious people delivering eulogies, too, will feel the pressures of the tightrope walk between not disparaging the dead and the honest acknowledgement of what their faith says lies ahead for those who “turn their back on God”.

It was amusing for me to watch a religious man wax poetic about how downright godly my atheist Grandfather was.  I wonder, too, if these moments take hold in the imaginations of the religious mourners who must be torn between reality and faith.  How can a man who has done so much good be destined for eternal torment?  Why should my belief in Jesus be the difference between everlasting bliss or punishment?  Is there no value to being a positive light if that light doesn’t give all credit to God?   In death the assumptions of religion come to loggerheads with the reality of a life well lived- for every person who tastes their own mortality perhaps another will see how simple it is to live on. Mourning is a cathartic moment and each of us has unique and meaningful experiences.

With the death of those closest to us comes the cold realization of mortality and the inevitable questions about the meaning of life, consciousness, and what lies beyond.  These questions are the bread and butter of religion- many a person has taken comfort and refuge in the idea that corporeal existence is merely a springboard to the eternal.  I don’t believe that we are all taking part in some “cosmic audition” for a role in eternity.  I don’t believe that my life can be boiled down to a job interview for my spiritual career.  I don’t find those ideas compelling or even desirable- but so many of us do. I would rather a compelling explanation over a desirable one- but for me religion offers neither.   This doesn’t mean that I don’t think that atheism has a compelling or even a desirable narrative to offer those of us struggling with mortality, grief and the meaning of life.  I think we have both.  Life is transitory, death is not; it is not a path to something that transcends it.  This is all we have, and all we ever will have.  We need to make the most of our time under the sun.  I was not aware before I came into this world and I will have no awareness once I leave it.  Compelling? Yes.  Desirable? Perhaps not.

This is just one part of the narrative of life, though; we do afford ourselves some measure of immortality.  The lives that we touch and the differences we make will outlive us and outlive their contemporaries.  We do get to be a part of the eternal.  My Grandfather was a product of those who touched him and the culture of his time- and he in turn touched my life and the lives of so many others.  The buildings he built still stand; and they will be here long after I am gone.  His life was bursting with meaning- and he was just a construction worker and farmhand.  He was infinitely special and nothing special at all.  So am I; so are you.  We leave an eternal footprint deep and tangible, regardless of whether we are giants or mere men.  We are the only known species to have a robust understanding of history and culture, and these things will make us immortal for better or for worse.  So be better, not worse.

That, to me, is a desirable way to live- and to live on.

Funerals can and should be an opportunity to reflect on the ways that the mourned have changed us- and in so doing have changed the world.  We ought to be sharing the value of a life that will transcend its corporeal limits.  I’d like for my funeral to be a time where my friends and family share the ways that my life gave them something that cannot die.  I’d like it if we all took the time to think about a life well lived and share that message with others.

If there is one thing that I believe important to take away from the grief of losing someone who was close to us- if there is something that we ought to take away from our mourning and build upon- it is that our lives are not strings that are measured and cut by the Fates. Our lives are braids that are woven with every other person we come into contact with.  Even after our string has come to its end, that braid goes on in perpetuity through those we have allowed ourselves to be tied to.  If we take the time to change the course of others around us, we don’t die- we just take a well earned rest.  My Grandfather taught me to see wonder- he taught me to appreciate architecture and history- he made me open my eyes and question what I saw.  I will take those lessons and teach my children, and they in turn will give those lessons to others.

My Grandpa isn’t really dead, because his life has shaped my own.

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Maryland State Delegate gets a smackdown for trying to silence NFL player who supports SSM

Posted on September 10, 2012. Filed under: Politics, Religion, Social Justice |

This story is totally funny.

Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo has come out in public support of same sex marriage.  He even donated two tickets to a Ravens game for a fundraiser to support the group Marylanders for Marriage Equality.  This obviously ruffled the feathers of State Delegate Emmett Burns Jr.  (D- Baltimore County).

Burns decided that the best way to handle the “situation” was to write a letter to Baltimore Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti, telling the owner to keep his players in line.  The letter can be found in it’s entirety here- an excerpt:

I am requesting that you take the necessary action, as a National Football Franchise Owner, to inhibit such expressions from your employee and that he be ordered to cease and desist such injurious actions.  I know of no other NFL player who has done what Mr. Ayanbadejo is doing.

Please give me your immediate response.

Since the Constitution is a federal document and not a state document, perhaps Mr. Burns could be forgiven for not bothering to familiarize himself with the First Amendment.  Perhaps, if he were not an African American preacher, he could be forgiven for not understanding the intersection of sport and civil rights.

It is alright though, because Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe wrote a letter to Burns that explains those parts that seem so woefully opaque to the State Delegate.  Kluwe’s totally awesome letter can be read at this link.  A highlight:

As I suspect you have not read the Constitution, I would like to remind you that the very first, the VERY FIRST Amendment in this founding document deals with the freedom of speech, particularly the abridgment of said freedom. By using your position as an elected official (when referring to your constituents so as to implicitly threaten the Ravens organization) to state that the Ravens should “inhibit such expressions from your employees,” more specifically Brendon Ayanbadejo, not only are you clearly violating the First Amendment, you also come across as a narcissistic fromunda stain. What on earth would possess you to be so mind-boggingly stupid? It baffles me that a man such as yourself, a man who relies on that same First Amendment to pursue your own religious studies without fear of persecution from the state, could somehow justify stifling another person’s right to speech. To call that hypocritical would be to do a disservice to the word. Mindfucking obscenely hypocritical starts to approach it a little bit.

I’ll admit that the letter has a bit too much rhetorical flourish, but I think it expresses how I feel as well.

Sports are not just for “pride, entertainment and excitement”.  They are very much a reflection of the societies they entertain and mirrors to our culture.  The politics of sport have been the politics of our world.  Think of Jackie Robinson.  Think of Jesse Owens.  Tommy Smith and John Carlos.  Think of the IOC and their use of the Olympics as a political tool for change.  Hell, think of Tim Tebow.

Athletes have a right to speak their minds.  Athletes, as role models, would be wise to use their influence to change the world in which they live, the world that they will exit into once their star has dimmed, the world that they will leave to their children and fellow countrymen.  What kind of “role model” stays silent in the face of what needs changing-  who just shuts up and knows his place?

It all ended up working out in the end.  Burns has since thought the better of his letter.  Let’s hope that Brendon Ayanbadejo makes people think better in November.

 

 

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Satire, Sarcasm, and Irony- Why can’t the Conservative Right do it intentionally?

Posted on July 12, 2012. Filed under: Atheism, Atheist Ethics, Humour, Irony in the Title, Personal, Politics, Religion, Social Justice |

Or….

Meta-Irony and my Infinite Gladness

So this graphic popped up on my Facebook feed today:

I commented on the irony of it all, which prompted one of my conservative friends to ask me if I couldn’t recognize satire.  Oh, I recognize satire alright.  Only, this isn’t it.

See, satire is supposed to be ridiculing an opposing position.  It is supposed to make the plain reading of the text absurd.  I don’t get that here.  I get that it is supposed to be sarcastic (clue:  a reference to “gay ideology”)- I also think it misses the mark.  There is nothing particularly absurd about telling Christian kids that their bible based views are not sacrosanct.

In this case the author of this graphic attempted to use sarcasm as a tool to ridicule people who refuse to give special privilege to ideas because they stem from fundamental Christianity. They attempted to use satire by mocking the It Gets Better campaign launched by Dan Savage.  It may seem to be sarcastic (and satire) to a fundamentalist Christian, but it strikes me as a form of meta-irony, where the sarcasm actually paints a relatively positive spin on the very issue (s)he was trying to skewer.  So if it is satire, it is horribly ineffective.  Even as sarcasm it misses the mark to a non-myopic audience.

It is ironic because the author meant to use sarcasm and instead ended up coming up with a pretty good idea.  It is probably in the interests of everyone to educate young Christians that once they exit the bubble of a public school system that walks on egg shells and a social circle their parents have some control over- they will be mocked, vilified, marginalized and ridiculed.  It would be positive for all of us if they went into the world understanding that religion is no excuse for sloppy logic, gross generalizations, and Bronze-Age morality.

But I only said ‘God doesn’t suffer a woman to teach’!- I’m just following the bible“- is not going to cut it in the real world.  “Any man who lies with a man as he does with a woman is an abomination and should be put to death” – is totes fine if you happen to be with your fellow Christian brothers, but it won’t win you brownie points in the office staff room.  The real world is waiting.  The rational world is waiting…..

Maybe we ought to think about telling them that “It Gets Worse”

 

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I Had Hope For The World- Then This Happened……

Posted on July 2, 2012. Filed under: Abortion, Atheist Ethics, Parenting, Personal, Politics, Pro-Choice, Pro-Life, Religion, Science, Social Justice |

The Catholic Church wants to party like it’s 1399.  Seriously.

There is a new ad campaign launched by a Catholic blogger that wants to make birth control “like,

Yes, HYSTERICAL- and by “hysterical” I mean an attitude causing a disturbance of the uterus

so lame” to the hip, impressionable young Catholics (and your kids, too!) out there.

Speaking as a parent, this is infuriating.  Speaking as a humanist, it is disappointing.  Speaking as a skeptic, it is indefensibly dishonest.

Here’s the scoop, from Claudia at Friendly Atheist:

Fellow Patheos blogger Marc Barnes over at Bad Catholic has realized why the Catholic mandate against contraception enjoys such pitiful support amongst American women.

It’s not because it’s an archaic, unrealistic standard that turns couples — and particularly women — into slaves of their own biology despite the existence of readily available alternatives. The actual problem is that it hasn’t been sold in a sufficiently attractive package.

Enter the new website 1Flesh, which seeks to sell 19th century ideas (12th? 1st?) in a 21st century package, Facebook page and all. According to Barnes, its purpose is “documenting the silliness that is artificial contraception, a grassroots movement promoting great, natural sex to the entire universe.” He then cites a list of “facts” that range from outright false to outrageously misleading.

Read on….

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