Truth-seekers and god-slayers

PZ Myers is annoyed by the fact that, when it comes core, fundamental, human values, many atheists are as bad as believers, if not outright worse. In the eyes of some, “atheism” means only “lack of god-belief,” which means atheism cannot imply anything more than that, which means that atheism implies some kind of amoral anarchy, above and beyond mere unbelief. So which is it? Does atheism imply nothing more than absence of belief, or does it imply that “they’re right and you’re wrong?” You can’t have it both ways.

In truth, atheism absolutely does have implications beyond mere absence of belief in supernatural father figures. A world without gods to take responsibility for everything is a world where we ourselves are responsible. Atheism implies that we have work to do, morally, socially, and scientifically. And maybe that’s the reason why some unbelievers would rather not acknowledge anything more than just the absence of gods. But I suspect it goes deeper than that. I think what we’re seeing today is the emergence of two broadly-defined tribes within atheism, two different types of atheists, whom I designate as truth-seekers and god-slayers.

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This is more than just harassment (trigger warning: rape)

Rarely have I read any article that so enrages me as this:

From the hater’s POV, you (the Koolaid server) do not “deserve” that attention. You are “stealing” an audience. From their angry, frustrated point of view, the idea that others listen to you is insanity. From their emotion-fueled view you don’t have readers you have cult followers. That just can’t be allowed.

You must be stopped. And if they cannot stop you, they can at least ruin your quality of life. A standard goal, in troll culture, I soon learned, is to cause “personal ruin”. They aren’t all trolls, though. Some of those who seek to stop and/or ruin you are misguided/misinformed but well-intended. They actually believe in a cause, and they believe you (or rather the Koolaid you’re serving) threatens that cause.

I am angry at the injustice being suffered by this woman and by others like her. Read it all. It’s words we need to hear. We are failing, and failing badly.

But I think the writer got one thing wrong. She believes that this behavior is motivated by some kind of jealousy over how much attention women get online, and believes that the goal is to silence women. I don’t think that’s it at all. Oh this might be true for some of the trolls, but those guys are a mere nuisance, and their behavior cannot account for the kind of abuse inflicted on Kathy Sierra and others like her. The real problem here is a much smaller group of “trolls” whose goal is to get away with the virtual, online equivalent of rape. These are not geeks defending some kind of boys-only turf. These are perverts acting out rape fantasies with real victims and real harm. Women who make significant contributions are targets, not because the trolls resent the attention they get, but because the online rapist gets a bigger kick out of attacking an influential and well-known woman than attacking a more anonymous female. The goal is not to defend anything. It’s to attack and destroy the woman. For “kicks.”

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Too awesome not to share: the Proud Whopper

http://www.nydailynews.com/life-style/eats/burger-king-sells-gay-pride-whopper-san-francisco-article-1.1852048

Burger King is celebrating gay pride with a message on its Whopper wrappers.

The fast-food chain has posted a video online Wednesday that shows scenes from a San Francisco location where it sold a “Proud Whopper.” Customers were not told what is in the burger, which comes wrapped in rainbow paper. Once opened up, a message inside the wrapper states, “We are all the same inside.”

The idea is that the Proud Whopper is no different from the regular Whopper, despite its colorful packaging.

I’m going to paste that into my dictionary as the new definition of “brilliant.”

Where the facts really stand

My two posts on Brendan Eich have attracted a commenter who wants us all to know he thinks homosexuality is a form of mental illness, and that therefore it is “tough love” to discriminate against them and deny their right to get married. He and I have been having a long back-and-forth discussion, in the most recent of which he said supporters of gay rights are guilty of “mental gymnastics” and “misrepresenting facts.” I have summarized my understanding of the relevant facts in my reply to him, but after thinking it over I’ve decided to promote it to a blog post as well. I’ll be interested in hearing your comments.

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Subverting the democratic process

Via Ed Brayton, we get this argument from Jim Burroway at the Box Turtle Bulletin.

[A]t a time when we are demanding passage of the Employment Non-Discrmination Act so that companies can’t just up and fire LGBT employees because they don’t agree with them — as they can now in about two-thirds of our states — we need to think very long and hard about whether we should demand someone be removed from his job for exercising his constitutional rights as part of the cornerstone of our democracy: a free and fair election.

Ed thinks it’s a very persuasive argument, so let me make the counter-argument and see if I can be equally persuasive.

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The rise and fall of the nerd Eich

Perhaps you’ve used the Firefox web browser. If you’re an old nerd like me, you might remember the Netscape web browser, whose source code formed the basis of the Mozilla code that lies behind Firefox. If you’re really hard-core, you might know the name of the man who wrote the original JavaScript language, without which things like ad revenues and blog networks like FtB might not exist.

Brendan Eich was that man, and for a very brief number of days he was the CEO of Mozilla—until word leaked out about his tangible support for Proposition 8 and for discrimination against gays. The uproar was immediate and impossible to ignore. Other board members resigned rather than work with/for him. OkCupid put up a notice, visible specifically to FireFox users, naming and shaming Eich for his anti-gay efforts and urging users to switch to a different browser. Facebook, Twitter, and the blogosphere erupted with calls for his resignation and for boycotts. Eich resigned after only 10 days in office.

The aftermath has even some liberals frowning. True, it’s a sign of the times that bigots can no longer act with impunity when trying to promote discrimination against gays. That’s a positive step and a sign of the long overdue decline in society’s willingness to condone bullying and harassment. But has the pendulum swung too far in the opposite direction? Have gay rights activists stepped over a line, and become guilty of “witch hunts” themselves? Is it anyone else’s business what Eich’s personal beliefs are and how they relate to his job, if he himself is careful to maintain a professional separation between the two?

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“Liberty means not allowing freedom”—Nuns

What does liberty mean to you? Normally, we associate liberty with freedom, i.e. the absence of people telling us, “You’re not allowed to do that.” But the Little Sisters of the Poor have a definition of liberty that seems to be the exact opposite. And they’re suing the government for the right to impose this “liberty” on their employees. The NPR web site reports:

The Justice Department has argued that the nuns’ group is already exempt from providing birth control under the ACA, as long as it certifies its standing as a religious nonprofit. But the Little Sisters of the Poor, represented by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, argues that documentation simply condones employees getting the coverage elsewhere.

“The sisters, under the new Health and Human Services mandate, are being forced by the government to either sign a form allowing a third party to provide contraceptives and abortion-causing drugs to their employees, or they’re being threatened with fines,” says Becket Fund director Kristina Arriaga.

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The Anti-Golden Rule

Possibly the best, most elegant summary of morality is the Golden Rule: do unto others as you would have others do unto you. It’s short, easy to understand, and easy to apply. And likewise, we can summarize immorality handily as the opposite of the Golden Rule: immorality is when you do harm to others who have done no harm to you.

Homophobia and discrimination against gays is exactly that. Homosexuality just means you fall in love differently than heterosexuals do. You have done no harm to heteros, but heteros seek to do harm to you. In fact, you’ve done no harm to any god, either. Those who seek to do you harm, when you have done none to them, are doing the exact opposite of the Golden Rule.

This is how we know that prejudice against gays is immoral, and is a discredit to any person, mortal or divine, who promotes it.

Homophobe? Anti-gay? None of the above?

Writing in The Atlantic, Brandon Ambrosino has some serious misgivings about broad-brushing opponents of marriage equality and defining them all as homophobic and anti-gay.

As a gay man, I found myself disappointed with this definition—that anyone with any sort of moral reservations about gay marriage is by definition anti-gay. If Raushenbush is right, then that means my parents are anti-gay, many of my religious friends (of all faiths) are anti-gay, the Pope is anti-gay, and—yes, we’ll go here—first-century, Jewish theologian Jesus is anti-gay. That’s despite the fact that while some religious people don’t support gay marriage in a sacramental sense, many of them are in favor of same-sex civil unions and full rights for the parties involved. To be sure, most gay people, myself included, won’t be satisfied until our loving, monogamous relationships are graced with the word “marriage.” But it’s important to recall that many religious individuals do support strong civil rights for the gay members of their communities.

It’s a longish piece which he obviously put a lot of thought into, and he makes some points worthy of consideration. On the other hand, he also published an earlier article in The Atlantic, entitled “Being Gay at Jerry Falwell’s University,” and I can’t help but wonder how much his thinking is colored by whatever background led him to Lib U in the first place.

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