Archive for July, 2011

Please Donate to the SSA : What I Want for My Birthday

July 23, 2011

My birthday is tomorrow. What I want is for everyone to donate to the Secular Student Alliance.

Here: An intelligent, funny, liberal, geeky, nerdy, scientific, perverted feminist atheist, sleep deprived blogger and fellow SSA group leader is doing a fundraiser for that same organization.

So, if you are following my link from Facebook or Google+ and thinking “Hmm, I wonder if David wants _____ for his birthday?” No, I want donations to go to the SSA. Our apartment cannot hold much more stuff, and I am personally donating hobbit-birthday style to the SSA as well.

Happy my birthday, SSA.

Why is Fanfiction better than Theology?

July 22, 2011

On the surface, I have to admit: this is a hard question. Both are examples of work based on a canonical source. In neither case is there evidence for the truth of the original source material. People are able to take it in any direction they like, taking trivial details out of context and basing entire explanations off of them, posing deepities, projecting their fears, hopes, hates or loves onto source material that may actually directly oppose what it is twisted to say. In some cases this is an improvement over canon.

The communities are much the same, as well. In defending their belief that Mary/Jesus, Luna/Hermione or Starscream/Megatron are the best pairings, they will snipe at each other bitterly. The groups grow in numbers and volume or fade away not based on the strength of arguments but depth of feeling and desire for community.

Sometimes particularly clever or charismatic individuals come up with such popular ideas that, despite contradicting canon, they are widely adopted and accepted, becoming fanon. Such as Jesus and Mohammed did with the canon of Judaism. And just as fanfiction writers may gain large followings and imitate the authors of canon, so too do others imitate the fanon authors, as Joseph Smith did when he created his own fanon.

I understand some may be outraged by this comparison. I may get nasty emails from people asking me what I have against fanfiction and fanon and damning me to an eternity without the All Spark, with some of them threatening to send me to such an eternity… actually no.

Because the main difference between fanfiction and theology is that most writers of the former know the difference between fantasy and reality, even if they sometimes prefer the former. And knowing that difference, they are less likely to excuse or encourage harming people over disagreements regarding fanfiction, fanon, or the canon that preceded.

And I consider that to be a point in favor of fanfiction, thank you. So, since I’m on the side of fanfiction in this contest, here is my contribution:

All I have to write on are these winding cloths. I love my Father, but he sometimes has an inconvenient sense of humor.

“Lord, the one you love is sick.” Mary and Martha. Such sweethearts, and smarter than any of the men who might end up with their dowry, but against that serpent’s tongue… That trickster must have been working on them for months. While I was working with the goats or healing people, unseen.

I tried to keep them from him, but he was so much smoother than I could ever be. How could the humility my Father gave to me match the pride, the overweening arrogance of someone like him? Someone who could speak to multitudes, who could do his dark magics plainly to heal, no matter what the other consequences would be, and be rewarded with praise and adulation and followers?

I can’t match that. Well, I could. Without even snapping my fingers. But it would defeat the purpose. I can’t be the hero. I can’t have fame any more than I can have riches or the joys of marriage. I can’t even protect those I love. My Father put me here for one purpose, and one alone. To feel every kind of pain suffered by mankind. To know that was the price to save them. And to go through it willingly, without any reservation in my mind. The Romans would say heart. So would the Elders. But I know better. It is part of the suffering. I know everything about creation’s past. I know when people misinterpret the bible. And I can’t correct them. I can’t even be smug about knowing more. I was just handed the knowledge without the ability to use it… it’s depressing.

And now? After I died; a long lingering painful death by illness, after I had gone through all the trials I had known my Father required, that snake brought me back to continue on going through all the pain and suffering this world can dish out. He thought I wouldn’t be able to take it a second time. But I will. I have to. Even though I’m stranded here and the easy way out is looking tempting… no. The goal is too important.

Well. I was a good brother. I was a good son. But do they know that? Do they think I abandoned them when I left to quietly and secretly end the plague caused by the Other and his mucking about with pigs? I am going to starve here. With the scent of swine in my nostrils, and I don’t even know if Mary and Martha love me more than him.

And he realized that part of the pain that his Father had needed him to feel was this: not knowing if your name would be remembered at all, or if it was, whether it would just be a footnote in someone else’s story.

Lazarus wept.

The Effect of Activist Events (Or, in the micro: Why I’m Blogging Again)

July 18, 2011

Since almost all of my skeptical, atheistic and science activist friends have spent the weekend at TAM without me (but I’m not bitter), I feel this is a good time to talk about the effect that activist events have, using myself as an example.

My first contact with the atheist community was on the web- please contain your surprise. I was still considering myself an agnostic then, as I subscribed to the common misconception that the term ‘atheist’ meant someone who was certain about the nonexistence of god. I went to a few forums and youtube channels that discussed those issues, and found Friendly Atheist and Pharyngula as well. Watching the debates and reading posts helped me decide to identity as an atheist, but I was just an observer, not a participant.

I thought about starting an atheist club at my college, but I was still going back and forth when I discovered the Secular Student Alliance. I went to their summer conference and was completely sold on making a college group. I loved the sense of community (see my previous post for details) I had when I was at that conference, surrounded by other atheist activists, and I wanted to create something like that within my area.

When I got back home, I put up Secular Student Alliance flyers, gathered friends who were interested and Doubters, Agnostics, Mythbusters and Nontheists (D.A.M.N.), a De Anza College Affiliate of the Secular Student Alliance was formed. We have had- in addition to discussions and panels- movie nights, blood drives, Fiction for Fiction events, Project Linus blanket making, events to promote Gay Rights, Sell Your Soul For a Cookie events (for which my group designed this snazzy flyer), and a MST3K themed Halloween party where we watched (and mocked) a film called Killer Klowns From Outer Space which starred- as one of the clowns- a now math professor at De Anza College who was kind enough to attend the beginning to give a short introduction to the film. In short, we made a place where we could have fun, improve our college and community and do good things without having it assumed that we were doing it because of a belief in a deity. We formed a community.

But other than club events and meetings, I wasn’t engaged with the community or movement. I stopped my blogging after a few posts. Recently, Harold Camping and his organization predicted that the world would end on the 21st of May. I had planned a presentation at my school for the 18th of May titled “The Great Success of Past Apocalypses” and ended up giving the speech on the 21st as well, at the American Atheist Regional Area Meeting. This was my third conference and it reintroduced me to many wonderful people. I heard great speakers, including other SSA group leaders like Jen McCreight, Lewis Marshall and Ashley Paramore as well as Greta Christina, who gave a speech “Why Are Atheists So Angry?”

I was talking with a friend who is at TAM earlier today, and I was expressing my jealousy to her, I mentioned the way I feel at activist events: disbelief that there are so many cool people about and  a feeling of family or simpatico with the other activists. (I may have also used the word “giddy.”) Between that feeling and Greta’s talk, I knew I wanted to be involved in more events.

Then, I went to SF Pride, in the atheist contingent. This is exactly the sort of thing I love: Two human rights movements working together for a cause! And it felt the same way, but with greater optimism because our causes are strengthened when they are joined. The secular movement wants to keep religion out of government, the gay rights movement wants freedoms that religious laws do not permit them. I marched with my fellow activists and I decided that I would do it again next year. I decided I would put more energy into human rights struggles. And because I think awareness is still one of the most important matters in these struggles, I decided to blog again.

I went from the sidelines- not even commenting on blog posts- to founding a local group, giving speeches (despite a fear of public speaking), marching and blogging. This is the effect of activist events. Now, I may not be the best example; you may consider my speeches or writing to do more damage than good. But if this effect is not limited to me, then allow me to give my own personal and subjective answer to Jerry Coyne’s question Are there too many atheist meetings?

No.

Fighting for Gay Rights is a Struggle Against Religion

July 16, 2011

I know, I know: Not all religion is against homosexuality. There are even deities in some religions that are gay or bi or hermaphroditic. And as Enlightenment values have over time infiltrated religious traditions that have historically been homophobic, there are even Christian and Jewish organizations that are gay-friendly. So why do I say that fighting for gay rights is a struggle against religion?

Without the Abrahamic history of religious prohibitions and denunciations of homosexuality, homophobia would probably be about as statistically significant as pogonophobia and have a similar impact on legislative matters.

Instead, there are a huge number of people who have essentially been raised to possess particular phobias, not limited to but usually including homophobia, as though their churches and communities are performing a sort of psychological bonsai, without the pleasing aesthetics.

In addition to the higher incidence of phobia, there is a philosophy of Dominionism which obligates some denominations of Christians to try to gain political power to rule in accordance with biblical standards (or lack thereof). As a result, we have many laws on the books prohibiting gay marriage, and some prohibiting various non-reproductive sex acts.

Consider how things would be different if this was not a religious matter: Yes, there would still be people who find homosexuality distasteful. But it would just be one of many preferences where if people don’t want to do a thing, they wouldn’t do it. There is a not insignificant group of people who find sex in general distasteful but they don’t expect their preferences to be institutionalized. It is the belief that “God says so” that makes large numbers of people go from self-determining in such private matters to trying to limit the actions of individuals within entire societies.

Here’s the good news for secularists and gay rights activists: we don’t have to wait for generations for things to improve while Enlightenment values gradually get adopted by religions. We currently have 2 very important assets: an increase in nontheists and the determination of people to come out of the closet. With more nontheists, fewer people buy into the religious basis of the arguments against homosexuality. With more people out of the closet, people are more likely to know that they know someone who is gay or lesbian or transgender or bisexual. That means that in the minds of an audience it will not be a nebulous “Them” being discussed if a preacher or pastor tries to claim homosexuality is abomination; it will clearly be loving couples being discussed.

As religious organizations continue to fight against the freedom to marry, more people will leave their intolerant churches, some will leave churches altogether. Some churches will become more tolerant in reaction to the values of their congregations. The ones that remain or grow closer to the original positions of their holy books may lose the power to bend politics to their will as they dwindle in numbers.

But the ability to see how this may play out doesn’t mean the battles are won or that we can afford to sit back and wait. In order to achieve freedoms and win equality now rather than later, we must get better at working together. Human rights activists are all working for the same general goals whether we identify as feminists, gay rights activists, secular activists, racial equality activists, disability rights advocates or by other labels.

If we can band together to achieve advances in each area, our numbers will be able to effect real change relatively quickly and the alliances that will result should be capable of making those changes enduring as well.

The Arrogance of Not Arguing

July 15, 2011

There is a common meme in the theistic communities in this country: it is arrogant to assert a lack of belief in god, the internal contradictions of theistic hypotheses, or the simple lack of a need for such a hypothesis. And there is a common meme among atheists and agnostics: there is no point to debate. Nobody changes their mind because of evidence. You can’t reason someone out of a position they didn’t reason themselves into.

I disagree. Emphatically. It is certainly not arrogant to point out a lack of evidence, but it is arrogant to assume that other people can’t see that there is a lack. How much more arrogant can you get than thinking that other people can’t see the issue with the First Cause Argument? What is more arrogant than thinking that you and your friends happen to be special enough or intelligent enough or educated enough to see through various theodicies, and then expect that their faults won’t bother anyone else?

I’m going to point out something that tends to get papered over: accommodationism isn’t just insulting to the Gnu Atheists; It is insulting to believers, on a profound level. Oh sure, accommodationism will call out Gnus for being jerks (because of honest engagement with ideas)- but then it will ask for us to understand that even if something isn’t true, maybe those weak minded saps over there need that mental crutch, we don’t, of course, but no need to make others miserable with difficult thoughts and logical discussion, and we should understand that all it will result in is stripped internal gears and headaches. Bull and shite.

If a belief is true, those who believe in it have nothing to fear from it being subjected to a free marketplace of ideas. No argument, no logical or empirical process will show a true belief to be false. And if a belief is false, how can you -without arrogance- claim it is better for others to believe it?

(Edited for spelling: Thank you, Jerry Coyne.)