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Happy Holidays from Your Judgmental Family December 28, 2012 22:52 3 Comments

Hi, faithful faithless readers! I apologize for the lack of updates during the holidays, but simultaneously celebrating an amalgamation of pagan/Germanic/Norse mythos AND changing our e-commerce service has left me drained.  Articles, talkery, and other writings are in the pipeline, but that pipeline is blocked up and needs copious amounts of Tennessee Honey Jack to unclog it (the perfect belated Christmas gift!).

 


If you're stuck with the question, "How do I quickly get diabetes and liver failure simultaneously," you have your answer.

 

In the interim, I thought I'd share a joyous little holiday anecdote from a few days back and see if anyone can top it.  This is my first Christmas as an out-and-about atheist.  For this holiday season, my stepmother insisted that our entire immediate family spend 3 days in Disneyland and its surrounding environs, to celebrate the season, each other, her 50th birthday.  Oh, and the fact that the world didn't experience a Mayan Ragnarok on the 21st (if you press her about that last bit, she'll say she was joking on that front, but she was not. She was genuinely worried that a different culture was right about the apocalypse.  She's been canning preserves for months).  This was your typical family trip - awful identical shirts we all had to wear, cramped lodgings, and the predictable emotional meltdown on day 3.  But, and this was an actual worry throughout, my particular brand of heathenism did not come up.  We got along, we exchanged gifts, we avoided ToonTown like a plague.

 


Part of you never leaves ToonTown. Part of you is trapped, forever screaming for death.

 

I was, however, accosted by EXTENDED family.  Our first day in southern California (or The So-C, as I call it), wasn't theme parks, it was a meet-up with cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, hangers-on, etc., all of whom make the area surrounding Mt. Disney their home.  After a dinner scheduled for 2PM - because you eat that early on holidays - we gathered at Oma and Opa's house to exchange gifts, hang out, watch toddlers be toddlers, and make general merriment.  That is, until I had the following surprise conversation with my uncle:

 

Kyle: ::watching nieces play and have fun::
Uncle: "So, Kyle, are you a full-blown atheist or do you still go to church?"
Kyle: ::eyes pop, momentary stunned silemce:: "Uh, no, I guess the former.  I don't go to church."
Uncle: "So you're fully embracing the wrath of evil, then?"
Kyle: "Well, no, I don't see it like that at all.  I don't think I'm 'evil'."
Uncle: "But how do you KNOW!?"
Kyle: "I don't! That's the point...."

 

At this point we were interrupted by family shenanigans of some kind, and were unable to finish what was started.  I have no idea how many people overheard this exchange. I don't know if my sweet octogenarian grandmother heard the word "atheist" in her home.  I have zero intention of sharing my point of view with my Dutch Catholic grandparents.  It's not important; to me it is trivial information, to them it could be potentially heartbreaking.And as much as I would have liked to fully explain my position to my uncle (who was always the cool uncle growing up, the one with the beat-up stationwagon who gave us surfing lessons), that was NOT the venue for such a debate.  I'm glad it never came up again, but I'd have preferred it not come up at all.

What about you, gang? Please, top my holiday heathen anecdote!  Was this anyone else's first Christmas out and about?  Any blowups concerning the divinity of the little ceramic baby in the manger?  Tell us about it!

If you're looking for the perfect belated Mithras gift for that especial non-believer in your life, look no further!


Your "War On Christmas" Round-Up! December 01, 2012 09:56 12 Comments

Pat Robertson, either communicating with God or passing one heck of a BM. (Source: commons.wikimedia.org)

Talking Heads Say Ludicrous Things with SURPRISE TWIST

Halls are being decked, sugar plums are now invading dreams, and chestnuts have begun roasting themselves on open fires (if you're wealthy enough to have picked up some of those great automated self-roasting Chestnutbots).  Yes, the holiday season is upon us all, and whether or not you go in for that sort of merriment, we can all share in the warmth and joy of one yuletide tradition: the War on Christmas, waged by foreigners, non-believers, and the Jewish.  Gather round, my darlings!

On the 19th of November, the year of no lord 2012, Cryptkeeper-In-Training Pat Robertson lamented that atheists were actively forcing all God-loving/fearing Christians to be miserable this holiday season because, "They’re miserable so they want you to be miserable."  This came as a response to a story about the city of Santa Monica shutting down a nativity display in a public park because atheists had decided to set up their own display as well.   Robertson is often attacking atheists, usually in response for how often we attack the religious, with, according to him, the same level of ferocity and determination as the Nazis vs the Jews.  Frankly, I would be on board for a Grinch-like stealing of Christmas. I love Christmas. I want it just for me!

But we'll come back to Robertson in a bit.  One couldn't fire the opening shots of the War on Christmas without Bill O'Reilly at the front lines, saying one of the most foolish, "get-out-of-jail-free" statements we've ever heard.  In an interview with David Silverman, who is apparently our "leader," if the video's title is to be believed, O'Reilly not only calls atheists a "merry band of fascists," he not only offers us the winter solstice so we can leave Christmas alone - he outright calls Christianity a philosophy.  Not a religion.

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At that point, everyone in the audience and all the crew did a simultaneous spit-take, drowning seven. (Source: gawker)

He is staggeringly adamant about this.  I really hope, I wish upon the furthest star in the sky, I dream the impossible dream that pressed on this issue, Bill O'Reilly would gladly advocate for the taxation of every... um, "house of philosophy" that pulls in money from its philosophy tithes.  Can't tax a religion, but we can sure as hell finance our deficit with an immensely profitable philosophy, right?  Bill dug himself even deeper on his next night's broadcast, where he insisted on his "philosophy-not-religion" angle while arguing about Holiday Tree VS Christmas Tree with independent Rhode Island governor Lincoln Chafee.

But the volleys in this violent, bloody War on Christmas aren't just coming from the aged and Fox News'd.  No, we have our own band of mischief makers causing a ruckus.  In a severe case of taking sarcasm and crushing irony way too far, Pennsylvanian Pastafarians are demanding an equal amount of festive display outside the Chester County courthouse.  Yes, beside the nativity, the tree, and the token menorah off in the corner, Evangelical Pastafarian Tracy McPherson demands equal representation for her noodle-based lord.

 

This deserves equal treatment. (Source: The Raw Story)

Who is this for, exactly?  How cynical, sour-faced and dull do you have to be to drive by a courthouse with a display equally representing Christmas, Hanukkah, and made-up ironic mishegoss and say "Got 'em!"?  What, precisely, is the point?  This helps no one, this level of unbridled sarcasm and witlessness.  At best it is a waste of everyone's time and energy; at worst it feeds directly into the notion that the O'Reillys of the world already have - that atheists are, at the crux of it, intent on slander and mockery.  I get simply saying "Well, why not make room for every bit of 'religious' imagery - they're all as likely to be true!"  But going so far as to stand in front of a council of county commissioners and state, “As a Pastafarian, I believe the Flying Spaghetti Monster created the world and all that is in it... He holds us all to the ground with his noodly appendages and that explains why we do not float away" doesn't make anyone think seriously about their own beliefs - it just makes us quite irritable towards YOU. So cut it out.

And hey, from one Proud Atheist to another, Merry Christmas!

 

Speaking of the season of giving, why not give one of our wonderful shirts as a gift to that lucky nonbeliever in your life?


Just What, Exactly, Is Atheism? November 21, 2012 08:58 33 Comments

Ever since I brought the question of Atheism Plus to this blog, my being, my very core, has been shattered, and every granule remaining from the devastating destruction is poised, waiting on the brink to turn on its fellow granules and wage all-out total war in an effort to prove what is and what is not.  In other, less grandiose, and, let's face it, false words, the response to the blog, and in turn the responses I was spurned to write, lit a spark of inquiry in my sunken chest - what exactly "comes with" atheism?  What's bundled in with the purchase of every Deity Denial?  When I order a Godless #7, do I get fries or slaw?

As many of the anti-Atheism+ folks were adamant to point out, "atheism" itself isn't really a movement.  It's not really anything.  I'm sure I'm paraphrasing dozens of more witty and urbane folk, but atheism is a system of belief the same way not-boxing is a sport of kings, being quiet is a genre of music, and "off" is a television channel.

 

Or like this sparkly thing is a vampire. (Source: allthingsd.com)

In its simplest, purest form, the kind of crystal clear Walter White would cook up, atheism means the disbelief in a "god," a supernatural force that is creator and governor over human souls.  I don't even like using the word "disbelief" there; to me its more of an acknowledgement of a fact of the world.  Facts don't require belief or disbelief.  I know I'm preaching to the choir, but I could believe all I want that I don't have a wart on my hand, but that's not going to change the fact that I either need to see a dermatologist or buy some gloves.

But even the bit about what TYPE of god is unnecessary, if we want to simplify further.  To the atheist, there are NO gods, not deist types who created the infinite Multiverse, fine-tuned the cosmic dials of physics and chemistry, and then floated away to dick around on Xbox.  No theist types who take a serious vested interest in EVERY SINGLE prayer, no matter how contradictory they may be to EVERY OTHER prayer.  No multi-teired gods that are all part of the same god, nothing like that.

 

Nope, not even Thor. (Source: 1upcollectibles.com)

That's it.  End of definition.  This is what the anti-plus folks were arguing - lumping together a bunch of ideals and goals and shared viewpoints on top of a word that means something very simple is unnecessary.  It was the same reaction when the whole hullabaloo about "brights" came up.  A person could be an atheist and have VERY different opinions on a multitude of issues.  Hell, and atheist could strongly believe in ghosts, cryptozoological creatures, and The Secret - they'd still be an atheist if none of those things fell under the billowy veil of "god."

I also feel it is unnecessary to define what type of god "atheism" rejects, but for the opposite reason.  For me, atheism comes with a whole boatload more.  Right of the bat, being an atheist also comes with a denial of most, if not all, of the world of the "supernatural."  To me, there's just as much evidence for a god as there is for a ghost.  These people fall into the realm of the "Spiritual But Not Religious," a group that deserves its own space on this blog for the tarring-and-feathering I feel it oh so justly deserves.

To me, atheism comes with an overwhelming appreciation for science, especially the life sciences of evolutionary biology that better explain our place on this odd little rock better than any tattered old parchment.  For most it seems like a thorough understanding of evolution by natural selection LEADS to the denial of the supernatural and of creator gods.  I admit - I was handed The God Delusion before The Selfish Gene and The Greatest Show on Earth, but it was actually reading an interview with Douglas Adams, published posthumously in the tragically brilliant collection The Salmon of Doubt that began my lust for knowledge on how we fit in here and why that's a better offering than the teachings of religion.  I've yet to meet an atheist that is also a denier of evolution, or a proponent of the young-Earth theory.  I'm not saying they don't exist, but to me, they just seem to go hand-in-hand.

 

Read This! But only after reading everything else the man wrote, and only then if you're prepared to cry like a little girl. (Source: neoseeker.com)

When you deny the existence of a creator god, and, depending on the god or gods, the existence of an afterlife, the crushing, almost paralyzingly so, realization that THIS IS IT comes with.  Again, I'm not saying there aren't atheists that may simultaneously believe in zero gods while also believing in the eternal soul or reincarnation or alternate planes of existence or some such bullwonky, but I've yet to encounter him or her.  This too seems to be an atheism package deal.  No gods = this life is it.  The odds stacked against one unique little swimmer uniting with the warm orb and resulting in the exact genetic code for ME is so astronomically huge that one is simply bowled over by how appreciative I, and all of us, should be every single day that we even made it, when the slightest alteration in the plan could have resulted in anyone else.  Or no one at all!  Of course, it's hard to live constantly in awe and appreciation of existence itself - think about it too long and you have to sit down with a glass of water.

 

Or, preferably, something stronger. (Source: realfoodtraveler.com)

I find the same thing happens if I try to think about what would existence be like if we had evolved to work in the world of atoms, and we could see that every object is mostly empty space.  Or what if we had evolved to perceive time several times slower than we do today.    OR what if another species elsewhere on the planet, separate and secluded, had developed consciousness at the same rate as humans!

 

Do NOT think about this stuff while operating heavy machinery. (Source: i.com)

From this consciousness-raising view of the universe and our tiny place in it, a whole slew of other stuff seems to follow.  Atheists seem to be in favor of a woman's right to choose.  They seem to be tolerant of the decision to let go of life in situations in which assisted suicide would be preferable to prolonged suffering.  I could go on, but it seems so much simpler to connect atheism with humanism, because it looks a whole lot like the two go hand in hand.  But there's an aspect of humanism that I personally feel goes right along with the entire atheism caboodle but somehow missed the kit for a whole lot of non-believing folk I've met, and that's personal responsibility - specifically, the kind of personal responsibility that would be labelled as "Libertarianism" in the political sphere.  Why?  Well, that's a question for next time, isn't it?  I've got to go drink whiskey and contemplate our place in the universe.  I expect to find all of zero answers.


Working With Moderates? Sorry, I'm Too Much of a Logic Fundie September 19, 2012 18:35 9 Comments

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="500"] Professor Jacques Berlinerblau, forcing me to type "Berlinerblau" again. (Source: Twitter)[/caption]

New Book from Biblical Scholar Bemoans "New Atheists" and Calls for Cooperation with Moderates

Associate Professor of Jewish Civilization and nonbeliever Jacques Berlinerblau has published a book entitled "How to be Secular: A Call to Arms for Religious Freedom," according to a report from The Washington Post.  His book, filled with stirring calls to action to preserve the first amendment's guarantee of freedom of religion, is really a call for atheists to essentially back off and unite with religious moderates.  Probably.  I haven't read it.  I'm taking the article's word for it.  But let's continue as if that's the case, shall we?  Thanks.

Now, while his ultimate goal of secularism within all forms of government is incredibly admirable - I agree that religion and policy should never ever be any sort of bedfellows - I'm entirely opposed to his method.  He claims that there are many faithful in the world who favor church-state separation, and that these are our natural allies.  I do not see how they can be.  First of all - the existence of moderates within a faith allows for the existence of fundamentalists.  It just does.  If a massive majority follows 90 percent of the tenets of their faith, they have no choice but to turn the other cheek when the minority follows the other 10 percent to its (quite often literal) bloody end.  Second, he seems to be confusing the notions of respecting the existence of a belief and respecting the belief itself, or even the believer.  Why fashion ourselves into moderates, gradually becoming more and more accepting of the foolish and dangerous things put forth by even the most moderate of the faithful?  How is that making us any stronger? How is that a victory for logic and reason?  I have to acknowledge a person's right to believe any ridiculous nonsense they want.  What Berlinerblau calls for is one of the most clear examples of the "lesser evils" principle I've heard, and I'd rather stick to my guns than do something I'm already calling "evil."


What is Atheism+ and Why Does It Make Me Slightly Angry? September 08, 2012 10:40 130 Comments

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] The Atheism+ Logo, and then a unique take on it that may or may not be an accurate assessment of its tenets, who knows, I sure don't. (Source: SecularCafe, Photobucket)[/caption]

EDIT: After reading and reading and reading this ongoing discussion, I'l like to start by saying Atheism+ no longer makes me "slightly angry."  Not changing the title of the article, as that was my initial gut feeling based on very little understanding.  Let this blog be a time capsule for future generations.

A "New Wave" of Atheism Seems a Bit Too Vitriolic

At least, for this amateur bloggist's taste.  But then, this is all very new to me.  I only first heard of this "Atheism+" business when The Raw Story shared this story from The Guardian.  I've done a bit of internetular browsing, and have seemed to come up with bits of info here and there: a perfectly nice woman named Jen McCreight, who blogs on the FreeThought network, has created a new atheism movement called Atheism Plus, with the plus represented by + just like Prince did for a while.  Her movement "cares about how religion affects everyone and that applies skepticism to everything, including social issues like sexism, racism, politics, poverty, and crime."  Now, this all sounds well and good, right?  So why is there such a divisive attitude towards it, and why do I immediately share it?  Some think that it's become atheism's moral thought police, run by people who know better than you and I.  Some feel that, while it claims to not be purposefully alienating, but as anyone whose even offered a polite rebuttal to their stance has been trolled to web-based death.  Some feel that atheism itself is inherently socially progressive and humanist, and attempting to create an actual doctrine is foolhardy at best.  And some feel that Atheism+ is a platform for extreme feminism fueled by disdain for the notion that the current realm of atheism is run by white middle-aged men of means.

I don't really want to get into my thoughts about this just yet.  I still don't completely understand what it is! Is it just a name for a few people's ideas on a blog? Is it a burgeoning political movement looking for donations and memberships?  Is there really a virulent swarm of caveman woman haters who are also vocal atheists? If you have thoughts about Atheism+, positive (Ha!) or negative, please comment.  I'd love to talk to you internet folks+ about this, and really get into my initial reactions.

EDIT: Yeah, I figured this would be the case.  Thanks for sharing your thoughts, everyone - except for you, Jizzer.  You are awful.  You will miss everything good in this life, and you have our pity.

I want to stress that I still know very little about it, so my opinions are just that - opinions, initial judgment calls, but minds made up can be easily changed, if they're open to new evidence.  But right now, I see an attempt of a select few to become the moral authority for a diverse number, and attach a name to it that, at its core, has no real ethical bearing.  Yes, most of us who define ourselves as atheist or agnostic feel that, inherent in that, is a strong sense of humanism and social progress.  I can't honestly say that I've met an atheist who wanted fewer rights for women, an amendment against gay marriage,  or anything like that.  But that doesn't mean that all people who don't believe in a god also agree on all the issues.

And that's entirely fine - the good parts about what I've discovered of Atheism+ through this little blog experiment is that it's an opt-in thing, it's not FORCING anything on anyone.  Call yourself whatever you want, support whatever you want, Atheism+ don't care.  It hopes to affect social change and fight religious influence on policy, and that's a noble ideal.  Here's where my "slight anger" comes in -

Now, it looks like a lot of Atheism+ stems from a tree of feminism whose seed was that whole elevator debacle a while back.  If you're unfamiliar with that whole mess, a convenient breakdown can be found here.  It feels like a lot of what Atheism+ is about is in response to this environment that may very well exist - I don't know, I'm a white, unattractive male, I get ignored more than attacked or abused.  But I do remember my initial response to the elevator story was similar to Dawkins' rather than Wilson's.  I felt, and still do feel, that to cry misogyny and sexism in that scenario was overblown - the cry of feminism in that instance made women all the weaker, rather than equal.  <---OPINION

And it feels like instances like this, especially with Dawkins' response, are why Atheism+ is so stridently opposed to being represented by the names we're all used to.  No more Dawkins, Dennet, Randi, Hitchens, Harris, and the rest - since they're aged white men, their opinion must be at least a little sexist!  Could it be coincidence that a lot of the people we currently see as the "faces" of atheism are older white men?  Or are these the people who just so happen to be the experts on the subject?  I feel like atheism+ is seeking to disassociate with these men simply because they are men. <-----OPINION

But is there really a huge, vocal base of hateful, sexist, monster atheists making death threats against Atheism+ bloggers and leaders just for speaking out?  Or is this the internet, where anyone can feel the sensation that space and anonymity gives to the id? Any online gamer will tell you - all you ever hear are the racist, bigoted, vile monsters screaming obscenities.  It's the power of the internet.  Creating divisions and shouting back only does so much, and I think all it does is "feed the trolls," as they say. <---- OPINION.

That's all for now.  Let us never forget - this would not be the first time I, Kyle Van Son, could be 100% wrong.


Signs From God (And His Atheist Buddies) September 05, 2012 21:35 3 Comments

[caption id="attachment_185" align="aligncenter" width="300"] Never mind poverty or war atrocities - let's get as nit-picky as possible. (Source: Blogspot)[/caption]

I will never understand eighty percent of the billboard advertising I see.  I live in Las Vegas, so a portion of the highway-adjacent advertising I’m forced to gaze upon each day is devoted to the hotel-casino industry.  This falls into that eighty percent.  The only time I’ve ever found these images and words even the slightest bit engaging is when they inform me that, oh, say, Jerry Seinfeld is back at the Caesars Palace Coliseum next month for a two-night engagement.  That kind of time-sensitive information is useful on a billboard (unless it's an infuriating digital billboard).  Everything else?  Telling me The Orleans has looser slots?  An ad about the Stratosphere’s luxurious rooms?  This is information better disseminated through television or in-flight magazine, or at least far out of town, on the highways into Vegas, where the laziest of tourists have yet to make a decision on where to stay.  These ads show up on our local highways and byways.  It’s weird.  The only other billboard images I find useful when you’re driving cross-country and are notified about something-that-shouldn’t-exist-but-does-and-now-you-have-to-visit-it.

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="550"] The history of grease and salt REVEALED (Source: Travaux Pratiques Encadres)[/caption]

But the billboards telling me when Family Guy airs in syndication on a local cable channel, when Shrek 6 comes out, or telling me that, since Kermit the Frog doesn’t do drugs, I shouldn’t either – we can agree on their uselessness, right?

Forbes did its own report late last year with some very interesting  numbers (interesting to billboard salespeople and enthusiasts, I guess), and it looks like people are indeed influenced to visit stores or attend events based on what they learn from billboard advertising.  Good for them.  But enough of my lengthy and winding introduction.  You’re visitng TheProudAtheist blog – you’re wondering where they godlessness kicks in.  Here you go:

The ones that drive me up metaphorically furthest up the nonexistent wall are the most useless, ineffectual, bland messages, and Las Vegas, the city of sin, is dotted with them; disgusting moths blotting out the otherwise bright, friendly, prostitute-illuminating light of our city:

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="430"] I guess he's working the door now? (Source: The Examiner)[/caption]

 

My "favorites:" the ones that just say “GOD” or “Jesus” or “3:14” or worse, like this lovable chestnut that will be maddeningly familiar to anyone that daily cruises the I-15: Infuriatingly, I cannot find a picture of it, but all it says, in huge letters, is “Hi! – your BFF, GOD.”   “Hi!” is in huge letters, and then there’s the little indication that this is a quote from “GOD.”  And then, in red ink, is “Your BFF.”  Like he forgot to mention it before he had the billboard design commissioned.  Garbage.  Pointless.

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="430"] I doubt they wanted us to associate the resurrection with skid marks. Tee hee... skid marks. (Source: The Examiner)[/caption]

 

Now, I do not want to anyone to get the right idea: I am in no way advocating that these billboards (these stupid, pointless billboards) MUST come down because they are in some way discriminatory or exclusionist to people of other faiths or those without faith.  Put up whatever the hell you want, you know?  Unless your billboard says “Hi, it’s your BFF, God, here – if you could just start murdering all of the non-believing infidels down there and salting the earth where they stand so that nothing can grow there again, you know, like I told you IN THE BIBLE, that’d be great,” I really can’t demand it come down.  I can, however, point out how empirically USELESS they are, right?  I mean… who is that for?  What real-life Ned Flanders is getting a warm and fuzzy pick-me-up from this bland messaging during their morning commute?  It’s more than likely not getting any Easter-and-Christmas-only asses in pews, and certainly isn’t a compelling enough argument (which it isn’t, it’s not an argument, it's big dumb words) to convince ANYONE in with the least bit conviction in what they currently believe to convert.  And convert to what?  Which “god” is this that is supposedly my BFF?  Is Protestant GOD my BFF, but Anglican GOD kind of lost track of his friends after college, and now getting coffee would be more awkward than fun?  And when did he start communicating with me like he’s the friend from high school writing a hasty message in my yearbook before he spent the summer at tennis camp?  I don’t want a deity that lets me know he’s thinking of me via Las Vegas billboard.  And, what, he’s EVERYONE’s BFF?  I thought we had something special, God.  What about that time we hit that hobo with your stepdad’s Jetta, and we both handled it like adults and never talked about it again but it bonded us for life and now we’ll have each other’s backs for like, ever, man? Do you just have that with EVERYONE?

 So, I think those words in that order up there has made a compelling case for the uselessness of religious billboards.  At least, the boring, “JESUS” ones.  The ones that are super-specific, like Harold Camping’s hilarious May 21st rapture billboards,  I am all for.  Anything that gives us a specific date in which people will be proven wrong (and which, coincidentally, spurs the creation of a number of bitchin’ parties) knock yourselves out.  But the blade cuts both ways: atheists have been using the ancient and mystical art of elevated cardboard to promote their unique message or organization of quite a while:

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="573"] Delicious, Godless Fruit. (Source: Stephenphotos)[/caption]

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="640"] I didn't until this billboard. Thanks! (Source: CNN)[/caption]

Again, I have no problem with these particular examples. They’re stating a message about themselves simply and honestly.  But there are others, and recent events have made them worth talking about at length: I’m sure you were aware of this, but about two weeks ago (which goes to show how long I’ve been sitting on this article as we’ve waited for our blog page to be more kickass), this happened.  That’s a news report from August 13th about the billboards put up by American Atheists in Charlotte, North Carolina ahead of the Democratic National Convention.  There are two different designs, one targeting Christianity and the other Mormonism: the Christian billboard has an image of Jesus appearing on some toast, as he is oft-want to do ever since the invention of cameras, with statements like “Sadistic God, Useless Savior” and “Promotes Hate; Calls it Love.”  The Mormon version has some sort glowing guy leaping for joy – Oh! I just got it! He’s in his magic under”garments,” and it says “God is a Space Alien,” and “Baptizes Dead People.”    Now, you and I know that these are pretty accurate, if a little blunt, descriptions of some of the problems with these faiths: the LDS church has some nutty beliefs and even nuttier practices, and the most well-read of us could probably recite Dawkins’ summation of the god of the Christian bible from “The God Delusion” from memory.  You know, the bit about him being a jealous, malicious prick.

 These billboards were put up by American Atheists in a valiant effort to show that both of the candidates for the upcoming Presidential election use part of their brains to worship and obey their imaginary friends, and on paper that’s a great idea (the exposing of the beliefs, not that the potential leaders of the free world follow ancient mystic texts).  But is it the right tact for this message?  The billboard?  Again, just like the pointless “What happens in Vegas, IS PAID FOR WITH AN ETERNITY IN HELL” crap I can see on my freeways, the usefulness of this sort of advertising is questionable at best.  These billboards aren’t letting readers know about a new sale at Macy’s or Engelbert Humperdink’s 2-night engagement at the airport Hilton lounge: they’re trying to attack firmly held beliefs on both sides.  Most atheists who have had the joyous feeling of converting a religious friend to a humanist and freethinking view of life will probably agree that it is a hard road – there are hours to be spent providing convincing arguments, presenting empirical evidence, and pointing out misconceptions and fallacies.  If the goal of these billboards was conversion, I was one-hundred-percent convinced they would fail out of hand. In the same way that I’m not going to be convinced that “god is my best friend forever” because of a billboard, no Mormon is going to read these and think, “you know what? Baptizing dead people is a bit sketchy.  In fact, now that I take a second to think about it, the whole mess seems far-fetched! Thanks, American Atheists!” The signs are too mean-spirited, too blunt and harsh.  The believer must be coddled, softly rocked back and forth until they are fully awake.  Plunging the believer head first in the icy water of truth will only cause him or her to jump back out that much faster – it’s got to be slow.  It’s very much like The Matrix.  It seems like these billboards are more about making a fuss and getting an atheist presence seen at the conferences:  a noble idea, but there are better ways.  I wish I could talk about this for the entire post, and I had planned on it, had even newer news not reared its ugly, free-speech-shitting-upon head (or, more accurately, if it’s shitting upon things, anus).

I’m sure we all saw this coming – the billboards? The dumb ones I’m not really in favor of because their message seems more cruel than helpful? Yeah, they’ve been yanked, days before the conference.  How utterly shocking and completely out of left-field.

The billboards, which had been scheduled to remain up through the DNC and then removed September 6th were taken down August 23rd after, you guessed it, violent threats were issued against the company that put them up.  American Atheists and Adams Outdoor Advertising company both received VIOLENT THREATS after (SURPRISE) a story about the billboards appeared on the (HERE COMES MORE OF THAT SURPRISE I JUST MENTIONED) Fox News website.

 Yep.  Regular readers of Fox News saw the story, and the first thought that appeared in their turn-the-other-cheek, do-unto-others Christian Jesus Lamb Of God minds was to threaten two groups of people with violence.  Imagine a little scenario: instead of Christian and Mormon, as our current candidates are, let’s say the very improbable happened and we had a Jewish candidate running against a Hindu candidate.  If American Atheists put up one billboard mocking eight days of magic oil and other hullabaloo from the Old Testament, and the other about elephant-headed gods and a magic wheel of reincarnation, would there be violent threats demanding that the ads in question be removed?  Let’s go even further, to a future that probably won’t exist for decades: it’s two atheist opponents! And some Christian fringe organization puts up billboards mocking our belief in the Big Bang and Evolution, in morals without a God.  Would you see a massive influx of angry letters from atheists vowing violent retribution for being treated in such a manner?  Would we see that free speech applies to the majority only, and if it’s used to present opposing ideas, all you have to do is bellow loudly enough to shut it down completely?! I don’t picture the same vitriol coming from Judaism or Hinduism (and certainly not humanists, agnostics, and atheists) the way we see daily, in and out, like the coming and going of the tides, from Christians.  Where does this rampant hate come from?  The most enthusiastic and optimistic atheist might claim it is the spastic flailing of the dying – they might hope that these are the last acts of an opponent on the ropes, desperately swiping at any potential threat before it collapses, beaten.  I, sadly, can’t agree.  I don’t know where it comes from, but it certainly isn’t from ethics or morality.  It's from exclusivity and segregation, a hatred of the differing and differed. The only solace, and it’s meager, it is half-a-bean’s solace to a hungry, hungry hobo, is that at least the billboard eliciting these violent threats is an actual attack on Christianity.  It doesn’t get more blatant than calling your God sadistic.  But how is it that these people, whom I’m sure have stable lives, with steady jobs, with the skills required to drive cars and book travel on faulty and inconsistent websites, are unable to see the difference between an attack on an idea (an incorporeal thing that only exists in the minds that allow it the luxury) and actual people?  There must be something inherent in these indoctrinated beliefs that makes rational people, who wait patiently in checkout lines and no longer discipline their children physically, make this leap to the threat of physical violence.  One could hope that the threats were not in earnest – that it was just a scare tactic, and if they had not worked, there would indeed be zero violence over a couple of billboards, but one never knows.  And how long until its perceived attacks on Christianity – not real criticisms like the billboards, but the absurdities of the “War on Christmas” and the like – receive the same response?  It’s harrowing to think that if such behavior continues, there may be a new definition for “Christian fundamentalist,” one closer in line with its Islamic lexicographical brother.

 One thing’s for sure, though.  Billboards suck.

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="550"] Except This One. (Source: This Blog Rules)[/caption]

 


The Science Guy Says - Creationism is For the Crazies August 28, 2012 21:51 11 Comments

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="615"] Bill Nye appears on Big Think to fulfill is role as The Science Guy (Source: Big Think, The Raw Story)[/caption]

If This Show Returns To Television, Creationists and Climate Change Deniers Better RUN

Bill Nye, following in the footsteps of greats like Penn Jillette and Michio Kaku, has appeared on the popular web series Big Think to discuss big thinly questions, like how to talk to alien life, why we explore, and, most importantly, why creationism is a load of hooey and cannot be taught to children if our country is to stay at the forefront of scientific exploration.  This is something I just DO NOT GET. I mean, we all grew up with the same television channels, right?  We all saw enough Beakman's World, plenty of Mr. Wizard, and, if we were lucky, the all five series of Bill Nye The Science Guy.

We learned about clouds and dirt and how planes fly and how to make whirlpools in 2-liter soda bottles AND evolution as kids.  And not once did these heroes of television do an episode on miracles or angels or the feats of Jesus.  How did so many of my friends end up in church youth groups?

Ah well.  Bill Nye, thankfully, is still around, trying to set these youngsters straight. His entire interview on Big Think can be seen here and the image above will take you to The Raw Story page for this bit of news.

If you've got an idea of how we can honor the man in a shirt design, let us know - the science angle is something we're hoping to explore.  Because SCIENCE RULES. And INERTIA IS A PROPERTY OF MATTER.  And so on.


Those Who Are Fed Tripe Often Regurgitate It August 26, 2012 19:29 7 Comments

A long while ago [and I apologize for a) the lengthy delay and 2) the somewhat dated topic of this entry] I talked about how people responded to the tragedy in Colorado, about how so many were ready to politicize the events and use them as reasoning to support their own line of thinking.  As much as I no longer want to talk about Aurora, and simply wish to wait for the day when it’s ok to make jokes about it so we can all heal and move on, I’ve got to address one more thing, and it concerns the shooter.  I refuse to type his name, as I feel ANY press about this “man,” any mention, negative or, goodness forbid, positive, is simply feeding into what he desired from this attack, even this late in the "game."  And, looking at it, it’s not even about him.  It’s about people’s response to him, once again.

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="544"] Yea.... this again. Still talking about this. (Source: NBC 9 News)[/caption]

Two or three days after the attack, I saw that a friend of mine had commented on something she had seen on her Facebook.  A friend, or a friend of a friend, or a page a friend liked, who knows – somebody had posted an image of the shooter’s match.com profile.  Whoever shared this, or, more likely, whoever created this image for sharing, was prominently concerned with pointing out that under “Faith,” the attacker had selected “agnostic.”  Of course, the facebook post went on to connect the dots in the most slippery of slopes (to mix my metaphors, with your permission), creating the tenuous bridge (ooh, there's a third one!) from agnosticism to mass murderer.  If you are reading this, I’m sure you agree – what an awful, ignorant, hurtful, and downright mean thing to do.  It shouldn’t have to be said, or typed, or thought – many, many people who proclaim themselves as nonbelievers on their dating website profiles do not harbor desires and plans to commit mass murder.  Myself included (lllllllladies).

But it didn’t start there, of course not.  One person on Facebook didn’t find the shooter’s match.com profile, notice his particulars, and begin espousing the moral decay of all nonbelievers.  It started, as it does, with the media.  Astonishingly, my searches have lead to TMZ (of all places!) as the first to reveal the image of his dating profile.  TMZ – the stalwart journalists who are first on the scene if Morgan Freeman farts in public or Lindsay Lohan's camel toe returns from vacation are also the first to expose the psyche of killers.  If it wasn’t them, it was surely someone else, because I also saw “reporting” of this information on at least one of several 24-hour news networks.  And, as strange as it feels to do so, this is where I have to give it to TMZ: their slant on the “news” of this profile wasn’t trying to put together the pieces of an evil mind, but rather, in true sound-bite, ADHD entertainment news magazine style, “The aurora shooter – BOYFRIEND MATERIAL?! We spoke to one girl who was FRE-EAKED OUT when she saw THIS match!”  Kudos.  Kudos for being predictably stupid and then letting it drop, because, hey, Angelina Jolie just got ketchup on her shirt.

No, of course the head-shaking and “tsk, tsk”-ing must be pointed at the news networks, where rampant speculation and wild generalization are king and queen of a court of supposition and gossip.  When did this happen?  Did no one have the rationality to stand up and say “this is not news? This - what the killer had for breakfast, what he listed as his faith on his dating website, his major in college – this is not information that helps the public!”  No.  And why would they? They’ve got a full day of airtime to fill, and there’s no better way to do so than to spill the juicy details of a monster.

And we eat it up! We devour it en masse! Why? Is it the sick pleasure of TMZ and Entertainment Tonight times 1000? Is it the airing of dirty laundry, and the smell is that much more enticing because this particular laundry is so much dirtier than the rest?  I’d like to believe that within us all there’s a quest to understand the workings of the mind, and when we encounter one so clearly damaged as that of the Aurora shooter, we are eager to put on our Sherlock Holmes hat and our Sigmund Freud glasses and play combination detective/psycho-analysist, but I don’t think that’s it.  Sure, many would tell you that it’s important to understand what sort of man does this, perhaps in an effort to prevent atrocities like this one before they start.  That’s all well and good, and a noble effort, but the people watching Fox News AREN’T DOING THAT.  The people who truly are analyzing this man and this situation have that information already.  Once again, all the media is doing when it shares trivial information like the killer’s announced faith is giving the public, a public with no use for such information, something interesting to one-up each other with at the water-cooler.  And when the media makes the word “agnostic” the focus of an hour-long segment of “news?” That will lead to the frantic Facebookery of the scared and dogmatic, calling for all to recognize the evils of nonbelief.  It's the same reaction as when the cops find Grand Theft Auto 4 in the killer's apartment, except that dubious link between violent video games and real violent behavior at least SOUDNS rational on paper (it doesn't, and there's no evidence there, but that's for a different time on a different blog entirely. DO NOT get me started.).

And this is what has happened.  Now, if one searches for the aurora shooter + agnostic, the results aren’t news. The TMZ article is still up (search for it if you like, but I refuse to link to it), but no one else is “reporting” it.  People are simply using this “information” to bolster their claims that not believing in god (their god, of course) leads to the destruction of society.

Actually, that’s not true.  You won’t find much of that if you search aurora shooter + agnostic.  You’ll only find the bulk of the truly reactionary and bigoted codswallop if you search aurora shooter + atheist.  And that leap is disgusting.  Not because I feel some sort of revulsion at atheists being grouped with agnostics, of course not (although I do believe that all agnostics are atheists, but that’s, again, a topic for another time.).  No, it’s that these demagogues, these hate-mongers, these fanners of the flames felt the need to twist the “facts” even further: we won’t convince nearly as many people that this monster killed those people because he was a heathen if we use the word he used – agnostic!  Everyone knows that’s the nice version.  Call him an atheist!  That gets like-minded people’s blood boiling!

And you can see it.  I won’t link to it, because it doesn’t deserve to be viewed by anyone, but there’s one of probably many YouTube videos showing images of the shooter, his dating profile, and white text stating that “The unbelievers are at it again! This is the agnostic _____ ______. Please pray for the families suffering at the hands of agnostic / atheist _____ ______.”  Of course, no high-and-mighty YouTube video focusing on an “atheist” would be complete without 4 minutes of demonic sounds over the entire thing.  But the worst part? Over half of the video is someone’s cell phone footage from the lobby of the Aurora movie theater.  And I’m sure this crass, tasteless video worked – I’m sure at least one trusting soul heard the demon noises, watched the footage, saw the pictures of the killer next to the words “agnostic” and “atheist,” and is now convinced of our sinful, ethically-bankrupt ways.

It simply comes from a misunderstanding of what it means to call oneself agnostic or an atheist.  For most of us, this way of living is tied to an extremely humanistic approach to life – YOLO, as the kids are saying (and I do hope they sincerely mean it and we get a new wave of young, rational thinkers).  Someone who truly thinks that this is all we get, and this world and this life are worth cherishing every moment, would not, could not pull that trigger. Heck, most of us are against the death penalty for the most evil men on the planet.  Richard Dawkins put it succinctly in his Twitter feed during a recent debate with Christian academic John Lennox.

John Lennox, in all seriousness, thought he could get away with the old "Stalin was an atheist, therefore . . . " trick.
The wind-up... (Source: Twitter, Richard Dawkins)
Not doubting the fact. Stalin was an atheist. Problem lies in the "therefore". Stalin was short man with moustache, therefore mass murderer
...and he strikes him out. (Source: Twitter, Richard Dawkins

The same goes for the Aurora shooter.  The man may be an agnostic or an atheist.
A) That doesn’t matter, as there are no tenets within either belief system (which they’re not, they’re not belief systems, but I can’ t think of another thing to call them) that would lead to mass murder BECAUSE there are no tenets to dogmatically obey. But more importantly,
B) all the spreading of that information does is ferment distrust and bigotry and hate.  It’s the only result.  No one is taking the information “_____ ______ called himself an agnostic on his match.com profile” and doing anything helpful or worthwhile with it, and if they are, they certainly didn’t first hear said information from the news.

Thankfully, there are already dozens of healthy responses from rational free-thinkers in response to these outlandish claims.  Folks were quick to jump on the internet and fend of these merit-less attacks.  However, defense is all we should be striving for in this situation.  In the same vein as last week, when I asked that we not use atrocities and tragedies that are wounds so freshly exposed upon the body of the nation as a platform to bolster our particular idea of secularism and logic, so should we not use the faith or mentality of those who commit such crimes as a weapon in our armory of argument.  Articles like this, in which the author blames a Christian upbringing for the Aurora shooting, are just as ugly.  Yes, you can call out stupidity and hypocrisy when people like Rick Warren say things like "When students are taught they are no different from animals, they act like it,” (his claim that, not only atheism, but EVOLUTION being taught in schools led to Aurora), but then say nothing when, say, the shooter in Oslo is revealed to be an anti-Muslim Christian extremist.  By all means, strike back at the ignorant and hurtful statements blurted every day by fear-mongering bigots.  But fighting fire with fire will get both sides burned.

So I’m not mad or upset when I see people on Facebook share things like “Aurora Shooter – Agnostic!” followed by dozens of comments about how correlation is causation.  These people aren’t psychiatrists, they’re not even truly interested in _____ ______.   They’ve been fed garbage by people looking for the quickest sensationalist item they can shove in front of us, and we can’t blame them for eating it. They, like all of us, are scared, looking for an easy answer to the question of why such evil can be committed, and by whom.  But there are no easy answers, at least, not early enough.  For now, it has to be enough to say, “so-and-so is just another madman, and I’ll speak no more about him.”

Honestly.  I hope not to speak about him again.  Thanks for getting through all of that.  As a reward, here’s a puppy.

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="612"] A different puppy. For you. (Source: imgur)[/caption]