“Humanism in Indiana”, Victoria Gipson on Atheists Talk

A lot has been going on in Indiana in the recent news. Govenor Mike Pence and the Indiana RFRA – the Religious Freedom Restoration Act – have many of us in a tizzy, and rightfully so.

The 1993 federal RFRA signed in to law by President Bill Clinton prohibits the government from substantially burdening a person’s ability to practice his or her religion — unless the government can show it has a compelling interest to do so, and in those cases, they must use the the least restrictive way to achieve those interests. Amidst similar state level RFRAs springing up all over the country in recent months, Indiana has made headlines by passing a much more broadly-worded bill which has, among other indignities, opened the door to protecting flagrant bigotry in business practices.

But as usual, there are good people speaking up about bad laws. Victoria Gipson is a board member of Freethought Fort Wayne, the first chapter of the American Humanist Association. Victoria recently wrote an article for TheHumanist.com in which she discusses the passage of Indiana Senate Bill 101, and how humanists and other opponents of the bill are fighting back.

Join us this Sunday when we have Victoria Gipson on Atheists Talk to discuss the RFRA and humanism in the Hoosier state.

Related Links:

Listen to AM 950 KTNF this Sunday at 9 a.m. Central to hear Atheists Talk, produced by Minnesota Atheists. Stream live online. Call in to the studio at 952-946-6205, or send an e-mail to radio@mnatheists.org during the live show. If you miss the live show, listen to the podcast later.

Follow Atheists Talk on Facebook and Twitter for regular updates. If you like the show, consider supporting us with a one-time or sustaining donation.

Saturday Storytime: Nine Thousand Hours

It’s worth remembering, as this story by Iona Sharma tells us, that sometimes you screw up because you’re good at something. And there may be nothing you can do to fix it.

Cally made tea and put biscuits on a plate; I didn’t do too much of anything. Without even looking at me she got her phone out of her pocket, dialled a number and said, “Yes, this is Calliope Norwood. At the light, yes. Can you send up—mmm, cheese and pepperoni. Thanks.”

I thought about that for a minute, and then said, “You know the pizza delivery phone number by heart?”

She ignored that. “Drink your tea.”

I drank the tea and ate a couple of biscuits, and slowly the world came into a little better focus. When I was a child the kitchen in that house, with its cast-iron range and big white-painted rafters, seemed enormous: as enormous as the possibility of one day being grown up, of my being a practitioner of the Salt and Cally’s being the lighthouse keeper. We knew, I think, that that’s what Cally would be, some far-off day—but then Commander Norwood died suddenly, of a heart attack in the middle of the night, and that was that. My father still lived in the cottage in Weymouth where I was born, but he understood, more than anyone, why home was the house under the light: it was my father’s people who built the tower.

On the table, stark against the stripped oak, were a handful of bare sheets of paper and a pen. I motioned towards them a little ruefully, and asked, “What did they used to be?”

“Tide tables,” Cally said. “It’s all right for me, I can remember them, mostly. But I tried to write them down for the others, and . . .”

“Yeah.” I’d tried to write down lists of magical logarithms, and phone numbers, and then just my name, over and over. We all had. I picked up a pen and attempted to write “Amal” and then “Salt” on the page. My pen formed the letters, but a millimetre above the surface; when Cally took it from me and tried, she couldn’t force it into the sweep of the C without it leaping from her hand. Above us, I noticed for the first time the neatly arrayed spice jars, now with blank labels, and the cookbooks on the shelf by the door with bare spines. “I really am sorry, Cally. I’m so sorry.”

Cally glanced at me. “I guess you’re apologising to a lot of people, right now.”

I nodded. Having been right in the focus of the blast, I had been stumbling aphasic for a while, dimly fumbling through the confusion; after that cleared, sorry was the first word.

“Okay.” Cally seemed to consider. “It’s time to check on the light. Do you want to come up with me?”

I nodded and followed her up the spiral steps. “I thought it was lucky,” I said, as we went round and round, round and around, “that the light magic can still be done.”

“Yes,” Cally said, “but luck has nothing to do with it.”

I wasn’t sure what she meant by that until we emerged into the lamp-room, greenish with daylight. And it was strange that I’d never seen it before, but then, perhaps I’d never really looked.

“Two power sources,” Cally said, tapping the glass. “Magic, for when the power goes out, and electricity, for—well, for things like this.”

I bowed my head. “I can still do it,” I said. Because my magic comes from seawater and salt, it tends to the deep, wordless workings—heat and cold and calm and light. Not all the people of the Salt want to take time for the learning, the way I did—Cally was taught all she needed in primary school and then by Commander Norwood, for the upkeep of the light—but the power is in all of us, brought with us when life crawled out of the sea, or so I’m told.

Cally nodded. “I’ll get you to help, then, when the time comes”—and then there came the ring of the bell from downstairs, so we finished up and went back down. Cally fetched in the pizza and paid for it over my protests—it’s a good thing that sterling banknotes are different colours, because there wasn’t a word on any of them—and set it down in front of me and watched while I ate it, and then I did help her with the light at dusk, and after that, went to bed before nine o’clock.

You must understand: there wasn’t anything to do, at that time. You couldn’t go online, or read a book. You couldn’t check your email or read the news. You could sing if you knew the words; you couldn’t do it for the first time unless you were doing it by ear. Offices and schools and universities were closed, waiting. So many people took up running that there were two London Marathons that year. And magic had become a primal thing—you could do it if you knew the working so well it was part of your body; you couldn’t look it up. And I remember people didn’t even do that: they were frightened, because of me, because of what I had done.

Keep reading.

With Room to Learn

There has been a lot of talk in the last few months about how “call-out culture” causes problems. Some of it is ridiculous, as when writers take to large magazines and newspapers to complain of being silenced. Some of it is not, as when those already marginalized note that dealing with fierce blowback for mistakes as they enter and acclimate to activist spaces is one more barrier than they have energy for.

I want to deal more with the latter as I get back into writing more regularly. There are things I want to say about languages of power once I’m comfortable that my views are fully fleshed out. In the meantime, however, there are a couple of posts contemporaneous with my earlier writing on the topic that I want to highlight, both from Angus Johnston on the Student Activism blog. [Read more…]

Their Own Neighborhoods

When you ask why people would burn down their own neighborhoods*, I hear you tell me that you don’t know:

  • That people living in subsistence-level poverty move frequently to escape unlivable housing and predatory landlords or because their financial status has improved or deteriorated and have little chance to put down meaningful roots.
  • That people in impoverished neighborhoods would often choose to live somewhere else if discriminatory housing, lending, and transportation policies didn’t make that impossible.
  • That policies of non-investment in segregated, impoverished neighborhoods means that a lot of property is already unused or unusable.
  • That the businesses that will operate in these neighborhoods often apply a premium using their local monopolies, both to their customers and to their employees.
  • That people who have been abused for years have been trained to turn their anger on themselves, because trying to punish those who abuse them will get them injured or dead.
  • That you don’t begin to understand what desperation is, much less what it feels like.

Are these necessarily the reason anyone would tear down their own neighborhood? No. But that’s still a lot of ignorance to be showing off with just a few words, so maybe you want to knock that off.

*Note that even this premise is wrong in some cases. Reports are that at least one fire in Baltimore was started by a tear-gas canister landing in trash.

Ron Lindsay and the Myth of the Feminists Who “Cry ‘Sexist'” (Updated)

Update: Ron Lindsay has acknowledged that he was wrong and said that he would have corrected the record at the time if he’d understood that it was important. Please also see a correction near the end of this post.

You’ve seen the complaint before. “These feminists didn’t address my argument. They just called me names”, where “calling names” means identifying someone’s behavior as sexism, misogyny, rape apologia, etc. As far as I can tell, it’s meant to signal either that we are less rational than those whose behavior we label or that we don’t have a counterargument.

There are good reasons to sometimes skip the argument. Sometimes we’re talking to audiences we’re confident can recognize the problems in the original argument. Sometimes these are ongoing arguments where one party has already done all the productive arguing they can do. Sometimes the timing or the medium is terrible for productive argument, but we don’t think the behavior should go completely unremarked. Sometimes we don’t think the person whose behavior we’re talking about would be receptive to argument or argue in good faith.

Sometimes, however, the statement itself is simply false. [Read more…]

What Vox Day Can’t Do

Theodore Beale likes to claim that any outcome of the Rabid Puppies sham is a win for him. Of course he does. Why? Because the only way to make himself a winner is to declare it by fiat.

In reality, aside from making threatening noises and encouraging others to do the same, Beale is weak and ineffective. He’s potent only as a bad example and an impetus to cringe. After that, he’s most notable for being able to achieve none of the things he’d like to. A short list:

Face it, aside from threats, Beale’s got nothing going for him. And while those threats are an ugly thing to be on the end of, they’re not getting him any closer to his goals. If anything, he is his own worst argument for his positions.

An Open Letter to the Opening Act (Updated)

Congratulations! You’ve landed a great gig, opening for a band that’s bigger than you, whose fans already like more or less the kind of music you play. It’s your chance to build your audience!

You’ve created your set list, picking out a combination of songs available for sale and new material that’s your best yet. You’ve rehearsed your little hearts out. (You have rehearsed, haven’t you?) You’ve put serious thought into the esthetic you want to present on stage. You’re all ready to go and make a great impression!

Are you ready to be reviewed?

Do you even know how to tell? [Read more…]

“The Nones versus The Dones”, Neil Carter on Atheists Talk

“We’re not unchurched, we’re done churched.” Neil Carter, from his blog Godless in Dixie.

According to the General Social Survey (GSS), the number of Americans choosing not to affiliate with a specific religion is growing rapidly larger. Since 2012, the number has risen by 7.5 million people.

Does this mean that the number of atheists or agnostics is growing that rapidly? No, not so fast. There are a large number of still-religious people who don’t go to church or feel like organized religion fills their spiritual needs. So, among the Nones, there are religious people and even people who designate themselves as “spiritual but not religious.”

And then there are The Dones. Neil Carter has been there, done that and has a bunch of the t-shirts of a churchy background, but now he is an atheist. He blogs at Patheos, and has written of the Dones as a subset of the Nones.

Related Links:

Listen to AM 950 KTNF this Sunday at 9 a.m. Central to hear Atheists Talk, produced by Minnesota Atheists. Stream live online. Call in to the studio at 952-946-6205, or send an e-mail to radio@mnatheists.org during the live show. If you miss the live show, listen to the podcast later.

Follow Atheists Talk on Facebook and Twitter for regular updates. If you like the show, consider supporting us with a one-time or sustaining donation.

Saturday Storytime: Dr. Polingyouma’s Machine

One of the joys of having an essay in Uncanny Magazine was doing the page proofs. Page proofs aren’t usually much fun. It’s your last chance to catch problems, but you don’t want to find big problems because they’re a pain to fix at that stage. For Uncanny, however, you have the option to proof the whole magazine, which means being able to read all the stories, poems, and essays before anyone else.

I particularly liked this story by Emily Devenport for the fact that it found something compelling in the work that science fiction all too often assumes will magically disappear with progress.

“You’ll see people in this corridor sometimes,” said my trainer, who was named Reed. “Don’t look directly at them, don’t talk to them, and don’t get in their way. They’ll just be passing through, and they probably won’t even be aware of you. But don’t take chances. Interfering with their journey could get them killed. Or get you killed. Understand?”

No way did I understand. But I believed him. “Yes.”

“Most of the time those people will look human,” said Reed.  “Sometimes they won’t. You can’t let it get to you, and the best way to avoid that is not to look at them.”

His remarks would have surprised me if he had uttered them somewhere else. But in that hallway, they made perfect sense. Weirdness seemed to radiate from every surface, and the floor, even covered with that horrendous mess, was the most normal thing to look at. 

As we continued deeper into The Effect, people passed us, just as he had warned. I couldn’t tell where they were coming from, but they all went the same direction, toward the Gate. Sometimes they were engaged in conversation as they walked, but I couldn’t make out what language they were speaking. I kept my eyes on the floor, and once the people had left us alone again, something occurred to me. “Reed—don’t the Journeyers care about the mess on the floor? Most people would be grossed out.”

“The Journeyers don’t care,” said Reed. “I’m not even sure they notice.  They may be out of phase with this place. It’s the people who made the Gate who care. If all goes well, you’ll never meet them.”

I found it hard to fathom that the Journeyers didn’t care about the mess.  That first day, and on many overlaps thereafter, there was blood as well as urine on the floor. Sometimes I wondered if a slaughter had occurred there, and the excretions had been provoked by terrible fear. Other times, it seemed more like something was marking its territory, angry because we had invaded the borders of its hunting grounds. I say its, because often the biological fluids on the floor did not appear to have a human origin.

As Reed and I made our way to the far end of The Effect, the hall opened into an odd bathroom that also contained a floor sink in one corner for wheeled buckets. The bathroom and floorsink were normal features of the basement, but they were enlarged and distorted by The Effect, which twisted the bathroom three–quarters of a turn counter–clockwise to make room for another hallway that intersected the main hall at an angle. One end of this new hallway disappeared around another curve, which arced away from the main hall. The other end continued for a few feet past the bathroom and terminated at a blank wall. 

But when I glanced at that wall, I saw ripples spreading in circles from its center, as if it were a pool of water. I looked away.

“That’s the Gate,” said Reed. “That’s where the Journeyers go. No one who’s seen around that bend—” he jerked his chin toward the other end, “—has ever returned to tell us about it. So don’t get curious about it.”

I nodded and looked at the stalls. The fixtures inside also appeared distorted, and I fervently hoped I would never see the creatures for whom they were intended.

“Walk me back out,” said Reed. “Then you can get started.”

Keep reading.

“A New Vision for the SSA”, August Brunsman on Atheists Talk

The Secular Student Alliance has been supporting student groups in colleges and high schools for fifteen years. This year, they released a new vision statement that addresses some of the unique needs of a movement with leadership that graduates every few years, as well as many of the questions the broader atheist movement has been facing as a whole. They have embraced humanist ideals, civic engagement, and inclusion.

This Sunday, the SSA’s Executive Director, August Brunsman, joins us to discuss where the SSA is coming from in releasing this vision and how they intend to make it a reality.

Related Links:

Listen to AM 950 KTNF this Sunday at 9 a.m. Central to hear Atheists Talk, produced by Minnesota Atheists. Stream live online. Call in to the studio at 952-946-6205, or send an e-mail to radio@mnatheists.org during the live show. If you miss the live show, listen to the podcast later.

Follow Atheists Talk on Facebook and Twitter for regular updates. If you like the show, consider supporting us with a one-time or sustaining donation.