I Steal PZ Myers’ Mail

Dear PZ,

I’ve lurked since forever at Pharyngula, and wanted to ask so many questions, but feared ridicule and contempt. I wish there were room for folks like me at FTB.

There is. Plenty of room. Voices can be heard. Oh you may hear about us banning those who speak up but frankly? Only two people on my blog have been banned. One was an anonymous poster who spewed horrific racism and sexism and insults at someone I love and care for deeply.

The other was a man who quoted gigantic walls of highly bigotted text that bashed everyone and anyone who wasn’t white and Christian. Both had that coming to them. I welcome questions because it is by dialogue that we progress as a society.

I’m what you could call an extreme agnostic, and to the bone, a secular humanist. To keep peace in the family, I do not advertise. But here it is…I still find myself, in moments of extreme stress, essentially falling back on the “prayer” release.

You can be a secular humanist and still believe in a god you know. It just means you don’t invoke your religious view when you do humanist things.

I personally think that prayer is a safety blanket. Or like Duck and Cover. Duck and Cover doesn’t really protect you from the awesome power of a nuclear weapon. Your safety blanket only works against the fictional monsters that your mind creates. So when we are losing control we rely on prayer to trick ourselves into believing that there is some control over our lives.

Prayer has always been a method of control of the uncontrollable. It is like trying to convince a thunderstorm to do your bidding.

But it does provide relief mainly because we are told from a young age that it provides relief. Pray for x, y and z! A happened? Pray! You want B to happen? Pray! And that’s a part of how we think.

As in, “Dear God, if you do actually exist, and you are not actually an irrational, misogynist, kill-happy sociopath, could you please do something about X?”

Heh well Hindus like their sociopath gods. Makes em human and more easily relatable when you think that Shiva gets jealous of stuff and Krishna still has a love of sweets and sneaks em when no one’s looking. It also means that their gods are more “likely” to do something. Jesus died for your sins? Krishna died 9 times to save the universe.

Read about other faiths. It may surprise you on how much more there is to religion and indeed by association how much more there is to not believing.

How does a non-believer get past this NEED to do something, anything…when there really is nothing that can be done at all?

By realising that there are things we can do and things we cannot.

And by that sometimes impossible things are merely improbable and often just “difficult”. I am a firm believer of getting your hands dirty. Can’t be a human being without a bit of humanity after all and getting those hands dirty reminds you of the people who don’t have the choice and in some way gets you to think about others.

Sometimes you cannot do anything about the choice. Sometimes the two choices you have are bad. And at such times you can take the path of least damage. You cannot stop an earthquake.

But what you can do as a human is be selfless in that moment and make the lousy world a little bit better for someone with what you can do.

Thank You for your time.

No Worries.


  1. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    Krishna died 9 times to save the universe.

    Well, that’s something new I’ve learnt today. Thanks Avicenna. :-)

    Nine times? In different ways each time? Killed by the same god or not? Why nine? What are the stories here? Must find out now..

    I know Buffy the Vampire Slayer died saving the universe a lot but that’s seems to be taking it a bit far.

    (But Thanks Krishna anyhow.)

  2. scottbelyea says

    ” I personally think that prayer is a safety blanket. Or like Duck and Cover. ”

    A poor comparison, I suggest.

    Duck & cover does nothing if you’re near the centre of things. However, if you’re on the periphery, it can help protect you against flying glass and falling debris. So it’s far from a perfect solution, but it’s demonstrably better than nothing and is worth doing.

    I doubt that this is the message about prayer which you intended.

  3. says

    Haha, you brought the wall-o-text godbot on yourself there. Don’t boast about not banning ppl ;-)

    Like how he kicks off with apologetics for raping women captured as “booty of war”. The “prophet” nicely suggests that they don’t practice a pretty ineffective form of safe sex. At no point does he suggest raping women is morally wrong. Seems the Koran and the “prophet” are about as bad as the Bible and Jesus in terms of morality here.

  4. Pen says

    I think maybe the person who wrote the email is referring to the comment section of Pharyngula specifically. In my opinion, this is a specific sub zone of FtB which is Going Wrong. I think there are some structural causes to this such as the willingness to let it function as a forum, ignoring the usual post/comments hierarchy. The thing is that both a forum and a traditional comments section are structured so as to be more welcoming to newcomers, other ideas and occasional commenters. People respond to the post, Pharyngula habitues have been known to demand that others respond in the light of everything they’ve said, in that thread or ever.

    At Pharyngula there is also an ambiance of aggressive language which PZ has tolerated and which is fostered by those who appreciate it, plus the establishment of a clique who haze the hell out of anyone who appears new and/or divergent in some aspect of their beliefs. It is an act of faith with the clique to disbelieve in good faith. It is, in effect, an intensely intolerant environment and much more an echo chamber than a site for debate or the exchange of ideas. PZ occasionally appeals for calm whenever some particularly undesired consequence ensues, apparently not realising that the combination of structure, habit and will of the worst of the participants makes this impossible.

    With any luck, the e-mailer might spread out into other FtB blogs including yours. It’s sort of a shame because her octo-cat (see PZs post) was gorgeous.

  5. shash says

    Nitpick: Duck and cover – it may actually be effective per anecdote… I once met a gentleman in Japan who’s parents survived Hiroshima (or maybe Nagasaki). Apparently, his mother was working in a factory, and ducked to pick something up. When she got back up, all her colleagues had been obliterated. Probably they weren’t close to ground zero, but still…

    Nine times? In different ways each time? Killed by the same god or not? Why nine? What are the stories here? Must find out now..

    This is like the old Soviet Radio Yerevan jokes: In principle yes. Except, by Krishna, we mean Vishnu, by died, we mean lived and by nine we mean 22. (OK, I fudged the last one to keep the joke format.)

    There are several avatars of Vishnu – forms he took to save the universe / defeat a demon / reward good people / whatever – in Hindu mythology. Ten of these 22 are more prominent than the rest, of which one is reserved for future use (Kalki – who will come at the end of the Age of Kali). These are Matsya (fish), Kurma (tortoise), Varaha (boar), Narasimha (half-man, half-lion), Vamana (dwarf), Parasurama (a man), Rama (as in Ramayana), Krishna (Mahabharatha), Buddha (obviously a co-option – some sources put Balarama here instead) and finally Kalki. Most of those are practically short-stories with deus ex machina endings, but Rama and Krishna are both in the form of massive epics which follow the lives of their protagonists from birth.

    Avi is just using a bit of clever rhetoric here to counter the “Jesus died for your sins” quote…

  6. Pen says

    @9 thanks Sally, I already have. You’re not mean for suggesting it, but I’m a bit surprised you assumed I hadn’t or assumed it would override my view based on several years of observation,

  7. says

    You’re surprised? I guess I’ve heard the “Y’all are MMMEEEEEAAANNNN” complaint from too many people who’ve never even perused the site, then.

  8. khms says

    Well, I’ve perused it off and on for a long time now, and I also think it’s a rather poisonous area, and certainly not getting better. And very, very, very prone to go off on the wrong target, and refusing to apologize.

    Too bad, since I mostly agree with the world view – but definitely not with the implementation.

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