Todd Akin and how the Christian Right’s delusion of an all-powerful God hurts people

I am about as far from the Christian Right as you can get, religiously and politically, and it’s not always apparent how closely that religious fervor is related to what I think of as the most cruel and stupid of the beliefs that the right-wing clings to.

Todd Akin, current representative and Senate nominee, said one of the most offensively stupid things I’ve ever heard.  Admittedly, I am as far from him on the abortion debate as one can get, but I do have some sympathy for people who think abortion is murder without exception.  I happen to think that it doesn’t matter whether it is murder or not — in all other circumstances, people have the right to use any means necessary to protect their own body from unwanted invaders and harm, I don’t see pregnancy as different.

Regardless, his scientifically illiterate justification for allowing no exceptions for rape is rather astonishing:

People always try to make that one of those things, ‘Oh, how do you slice this particularly tough sort of ethical question.’  It seems to me, first of all, what I understand from doctors is that’s really where—if it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.

Todd Akin’s absurd claim that people who are “legitimately” raped can’t get pregnant is symptomatic of the larger problem of the Christian Right. When you think that there is an all-powerful God overlooking everything, it’s difficult to cope with the cognitive dissonance that bad things happen to good people and that most solutions to problems are imperfect.

The problem of evil in the world is nothing new, but it is much easier to ignore if you blame all bad things on bad actions on the part of victims rather than societal problems or true injustice.  It would be too cruel for someone to get pregnant from a rape, so she must have not been raped, not really raped, only kind of raped.  They aren’t saying these things to justify their positions, they genuinely believe them because not to would be so difficult to all of their other beliefs.

There can’t be systematic injustice — God wouldn’t allow it, so women and black people and poor people are all simply reaping what they’ve sewn or playing their appropriate role, not being hurt by unnecessary prejudice and cruelty.  Women can’t be raped, they are always asking for it.  People on welfare must be bad people, that’s why they deserve to be poor.  They are different from us.  That’s why when Rush Limbaugh takes government handouts, it is OK, because he’s really a good person, but when some black welfare queen takes it, it is not OK, because she’s really a bad person.  Limbaugh doing drugs is someone who needs counseling, inner city kids doing drugs are criminals.  Why should there be social safety nets for bad people?  Because in the mind of a Christian, the world can be broken into the good people and the bad people.  Somehow they miss that almost everyone is just a people people, not particularly good or bad.

To be a Christian, you must believe that God is all-powerful and good, and so you’re forced to believe that people have asked for their bad fates and that solutions to problems are simple, otherwise you have to start questioning the God hypothesis and admitting that the responsibility for making to world a better place for your fellow man is yours.

Geek Evolution: Let go of your anger, be a Better Nerd

by Nicholas Thurkettle

I have known Ashley for a few years now, and I think she would agree geekdom has been a foundational pillar of our friendship from the very start. And so when she started on this topic I felt like this was a conversation in which I could participate, and she has been good enough to lend me some space on her rabble-rousing e-billboard here.

I have to confess I was, for a long time, on the wrong side of the argument she describes. I used to talk about latter-day self-labeling geeks as wearing the equivalent of fake prison ink. I am part of the last generation that experienced adolescence without the Internet being a significant presence in our lives – the year I graduated from high school, 1995, was the year in which commercialization of the Internet took off with the decommissioning of the National Science Foundation’s NSFNET. At the time, I was in an economics class that played the game of investing imaginary dollars in the stock market. One of my teammates kept suggesting we throw every piece of play money at this thing called America On-Line. We didn’t listen. He’s wealthier than I am now.

But the difference I will have to describe to the younger generation from now on was that, pre-Internet, it really was possible to feel utterly alone in your geekdom. But for the two or three friends who could be talked into staying up all night to watch The Trilogy (there was only one back then), it was difficult to conceive that there was a vast world of us out there. And, even if we could rationally-accept that there was, it didn’t do our daily sense of isolation much good.

Nowadays, of course, there is this astonishing and galvanizing sense of instant community that can be created around any obsession, and Geekdom has become a powerful nation influencing affairs all over the cultural planet. And as Ashley and many others have rightly pointed out, we ought to celebrate that, and be grateful the next spawning of lovely nerds won’t share our suffering.

But until recently, I clung to the tribulational aspect of my nerd youth. It’s easy to love Doctor Who now. Hop in the TARDIS and try loving Doctor Who in 1989. That’s not for sissies.

As I reflect honestly on it, though, I really wasn’t actively bullied much in the classic sense. It was more a sense of being frozen out, and not understood. There was this pretty, glittering party of a world that the popular people were running, and my kind just didn’t fit there, and I perceived that in a million baffled looks and dead-ended conversations. But part of my maturation has been to realize that basically everyone feels left out of something; and the most successful, popular person around is, inside, probably as messed-up and uncertain about life as I am. I now realize most of the crowd ever meant any harm. And I think time grew my grievances as it can so often do.

Wasn’t it our comfort in those times that the things we prioritized – imagination and the deep commitment and knowledge that comes from loving something to a truly-geeky extent – was worth more than the fleeting goose honks that passed for What Matters among the superficial crowd? I know I believed it. The key question here is – did you really believe that when you said it or not?

Because if you do, then suffering is not intrinsic to being a nerd. We don’t have to be scorned for the way we love in order for that love to be valid. To hold on to that anger is, to an extent, to grant the vaporous and unslayable Thems of our past the premise we always claimed to reject – that to be this way is weird, wrong, and so rare and useless as to be vestigial to right society.

So I am relieved to come clean and say I was wrong. A positive definition of nerddom can emancipate us from old anger.

I do believe, though, that is still possible, and even defensible, to watch that these labels of geek and nerd, which we have reclaimed from derision, not be embraced too cheaply by too wide a crowd. Because then we risk them not having a definition at all.

I’ll use an analogy so dated as to be almost useless, except that I know the nerdiest among you will go to Wikipedia to read about it and will probably think it’s cool that you learned something today: if a hardcore Bob Dylan fan told you that you can’t call yourself a REAL Bob Dylan fan unless you own the non-commercial release versions of the Newport Bootlegs, then you might well say that person was being clannish, superior, and intentionally-obscure. What I hope we are trying is to keep geekdom at large from that status.

But if you heard someone say that they were a HUGE Bob Dylan fan, and when you asked them what they loved about him, they replied that they had just heard that “let’s get stoned” song of his on the radio and thought it was cool, I am saying you would be damn right to be irritated. Because that is not even the song’s name, and a nerd wouldn’t get something like that wrong if the word “nerd” still means anything.

I am not saying there should be barriers to entry in our big nerdy tent – anyone could be a nerd about something. But it does take at least a little bit of work, some genuine and proactive embrace of thing beyond what can be passively-digested, to earn the label.

This is not nerding, this is being a couch potato.

We do agree that what makes a nerd a nerd is that he or she is not superficial about that over which they nerd. I don’t want us to shy from that. I want to retain and recognize the right – if someone wants to refer to themselves as a nerd or a geek about something – to see them demonstrate that they have bothered to delve into it; even to watch/read/listen to/play it more than once (can we get a ruling on that, at least?) Any rock band will tell you that just buying a T-shirt so people can see you wear it doesn’t make you a real fan, and we ought to listen to wisdom like that; because in the greatest days of rock, the best rockers were massive nerds.

If your friend bought a ticket to The Avengers, saw The Avengers, and liked The Avengers, that makes your friend a movie fan, not a nerd. And that’s okay. If they call themselves a nerd based just on that, I think we nerds have earned cuffing them (good-naturedly, I now stress) over it.

Now, maybe they saw it, and felt compelled to talk to you about how they think Nick Fury is a badass. And you enthusiastically agree, but lament that movie Nick Fury didn’t have the “Steranko Gun”. Your friend wonders what that means. They do a little reading (you lend them a book or two, don’t you?) And then they come with you to the comic store for hardback collections, because they have decided that They. Love. Nick. Fury. And they Must. Know. More. Now you are serving your friend well. Graciously welcome them to Geekdom. Find out what they nerd out about, because they probably have nerded out over something in their lives before and didn’t realize that’s what they were doing. Soap opera fans? Huge nerds. Also pro wrestling fans – but I repeat myself.

We have a responsibility, in being Better Nerds, not just to let go of grievances, but to articulate what makes us nerds to begin with, and what makes that a good thing to be in this blessed time for all things nerdy. If the isolation of the positive aspects of nerddom – that commitment and attention to detail and admiration for the artists who entertain us – is what will rescue it from past traumas, it can also be what protects the label from spreading out and being commoditized to meaninglessness. It is not earned by pain. But I say it is still earned.

We have an opportunity here, what with this staggering volume of delicious geek product being served to us, to show people not just how to love something cool, but how rewarding it is to love it in the way a nerd does. Just about every woman I have dated has been a nerd of some kind, and I feel lucky for it. Truly – once you go nerd, you don’t go back to the herd. That commitment and joy in discovery makes for a great partner.

If there is some lingering irritation at the latecomers to our party, let’s decide that it is only to protect what we think makes our ways valuable, and let it be welcomingly-simple to dispatch – you don’t owe us anything. You can be a nerd too; just do as nerds do.

Nicholas Thurkettle is a member of the Writers Guild of America, and in his life has authored screenplays, stage plays, prose fiction, newspaper and magazine features, film criticism, millions of words’ worth of blog posts, corporate training videos, ghost-written office dinner party jokes, and was once nearly hired to write an erotic virtual comic book, but was passed over despite that he had a fantastic story pitch for it.  His blog can be found at NicholasThurkettle.com

Guest Post Policy: Send me an e-mail, maybe you can post an entry here too.

Video Dragon*Con 2011: Do Be a Dick

This is the talk I gave at Dragon*Con last year, which was itself an expansion on the talk I gave at TAM9.  It’s about how to use emotions to your advantage when trying to promote a cause.  I talk about Prop 8, the importance of social justice in getting people to like atheists, and how to be a dick in an effective way.

The powerpoint and notes for the presentation are here: http://freethoughtblogs.com/ashleymiller/2011/09/06/do-be-a-dick-sometimes-emotions-and-skeptics/

Stop making geek culture be about how you were bullied

Update: More thoughts here.

To my mind, being a geek is a lot like being gay or being atheist.  These are things that can be completely invisible to an outsider.  No one in high school knew I went home and wrote Hercules fanfiction.  No one knew the fathomless depths of my geekery.

Greta Christina has a wonderful post about how, as being gay has become more normal, the people who are out are also becoming more normal.  Normal, to most outcast’s minds, is a bad thing.  If there’s one thing you can comfort yourself with when you’re an outsider, it’s the feeling that you’re better than the people who are, as you see it, “insiders”.  Greta says the same thing is going to happen with atheists — we’re going to stop being statistically smart and amazing on average, and start being just sort of average.  Because what we’re working towards is acceptance, and when coming out isn’t difficult, more people come out — no bravery required, no willful pride necessary, any and all may apply.

I think that this is the same as what has happened with geek culture, and it has pissed off a lot of old geeks.  They feel that new geeks have not paid their dues to be able to call themselves that.  You weren’t bullied?  Well, then you’re not a *real* geek.  I used the term “hipster geek” in my previous post, which I basically took from John Scalzi, and while that expresses the attitude accurately in some ways, it doesn’t explain the why.

Being a geek in high school for most people is hard.  It is as hard in some places as being out and gay.  And unlike being gay, there is no nerd-jock alliance in high school.  There’s no Geek Student Alliance.  When, to be who you are, you have had to go through hell, it can be very irritating that there are people who didn’t go through hell and claim to be the same as you.

“Oh, you grew up in San Francisco with hippie parents who drove you and your same-sex partner to the movies before you could drive, well I grew up in the Deep South where coming out meant I was beaten up every day, therefore you don’t really know what it’s like to be gay.”

We all want to be understood and when you’re tortured, you want to have gotten something from it.  If you’re tortured and it doesn’t mean anything, that’s so much worse than if your torture earns you something, some sort of credibility, some part of a special club of people who overcame.  But the reality is, being bullied doesn’t earn you anything.  It doesn’t make you a better person, it doesn’t make you higher ranked in the world of geekdom, gayness, or atheism, and it doesn’t even always give you insight into the world, though sometimes it can.  Being bullied is simply a horrible thing that happens to people.

Someone calling themselves “…” responded to my previous post about who gets to be a geek and said the following things:

Some of us paid our dues is what I’m saying. “sexism in geekdom”? When I was growing up, all – and I mean all – girls at my school would have rather been sent to Saudi Arabia than be called geeks.

And that, in a nutshell, is why geek culture is male dominated.

Anyway, my point was that there are some of us who paid our dues in that area. It’s not about being “hipster”, it’s about a certain annoyance that comes from people who would have treated you like you were carrying a radioactive strain of leprosy back in the day now finding it’s cool to like LotR. It’s irritating to say the least.

I’m fully aware that that tiny handful of geek girls who existed – and they were a tiny handful, don’t even pretend otherwise – had as rough a time as the rest of us. But I find this rapid retroactive identification with geekdom… suspicious. Yes, it’s quite astonishing how many people were geeks back then nowadays. It’s a wonder that there was any other kind of person around in the schools at all… It’s a bit like the Jewish population explosion in vichy France, isn’t it?

That’s true, but it is also true that girls were some of the most viciously anti-geek ones, and it is true that many of the blows we soaked up was because the guys in question wanted to impress the pretty girls, who were not above egging that sort of thing on.

There’s another point; yes, it sucks that girls got ostracised at times by other geeks, but being a geek meant you got ostracised by definition. And geek fratricide is hardly uknown. If you objected to one group, why didn’t you form your own? That’s what I did, and let me tell you, I didn’t get any approval or help. You talk about the community… back then there wasn’t a community. There was just what you and the tiny handful like you could put together. You scraped it together as best you could, and only for one reason, because you loved it, and if you couldn’t – tough. People would be disgusted that you even tried, let alone that you were upset when it didn’t work.

I am simply repeating, for the last time now, that there are very good reasons why geekdom is traditionally clannish and insular, and it might be nice to see that reflected. You know, just for accuracy and politeness sakes.

You read this and you can see, he is pissed off. Leaving aside his troubling loathing of women because of how he perceived the “pretty girls” in high school, he is pissed off that he had to work so damn hard at something that other people aren’t having to work hard at.  He is pissed off that some girls made fun of him in high school and made him feel bad about himself and that some girls now claim that they are geeks too.  Maybe even some of those same girls!

I think this attitude is incredibly fucked up.  I think it’s time to let go of the anger.

Most people feel like outcasts in high school, even those people the rest of us thought were cool. What the commenter is doing, and what a lot of geek guys are doing, is creating definitions of what is cool enough for them to accept you.  You have to pass their “geek” test.  As a geek, I find this border patrolling deeply embarrassing.

As it happens, when I was in high school, most of the self-described geeks I knew were girls. Monty Python club? Mostly girls. Yearbook, newspaper, lit mag, math team, academic decathlon, religion club… all of these were dominated by girls. I don’t interpret that to mean that boys are less legitimately geeky.

Was I bullied?  Sure.  At home moreso than by my peers, but both.  I was told I would always be unhappy, that I would never find a boy who would date me, that “guys don’t make passes at girls who wear glasses”, that I was too fat even for nerds to want to date, that if I didn’t drink I wasn’t a real teenager, that playing games with my friends was going to make me die a virgin, that I would marry the first boy that would have me out of desperation, that not going to the football games or pep rallies signified a deeply troubled mind, that hanging out with my teachers instead of my fellow students was bad.

And by boys who were geeks I was told that I was too intimidating, that a girl who was better at them than a game was a problem, that a girl who knew more about movies than them was cool but not really, that I could kick their ass on Star Wars trivia was threatening.

And if a kid today can go through high school watching movies and writing fanfiction and having monty python club and participating in acadec and reading comics and no one thinks less of them for it: AWESOME. If everyone, including Joe Peacock’s “6 of 9s”, wants to embrace their inner weirdness and smartness and they can do that without it being embarrassing, fuck yeah! That’s amazing! I wish I had been so lucky, and maybe me pushing the boundaries a little helped them. Maybe I made the world a little bit better for people who like the same things I like!  Maybe the world sucks a little less now than it did then.  Or maybe now I am trying to make the bullying meaningful.

Being a geek shouldn’t be about a persecution complex.  It shouldn’t be about being better than other people.  It shouldn’t be about bullying people who want to be your friend now because of what you think they may have been like in high school.  It should be about embracing people for being themselves and being grateful that they can be themselves when they are with you.

The importance of sexual identification in AIDS rates

Gregory in Seattle left the following comment on my AIDS post yesterday and I thought it was worth reposting in its own right.

You might find this of interest: an interactive map giving the HIV infection rates in the US by county, per 100,000 population. According to the CDC, about 25% of Americans, aged 13 or older, with HIV are women. Of them, 64% are African American. Of all the people with HIV in the US, an estimated 20% do not know they have the virus.

I’m a member of the Community Advisory Board for the Seattle HIV Vaccine Trials Unit. We’ve discussed the racial and regional disparity of the pandemic in the US. Education and religion are parts, but there is also a strong element of identification. Many African American men who have sex with men do not self-identify as gay: they do not march in parades, they do not go to bath houses, they do not fall in love and build a common life with other men. Being gay is a white thing, and the popular sentiment is that only gay people get HIV.* This identification divide exists even in major cities on the coasts. Because much of the outreach over the last 20 years has focused almost exclusively on gay men and has been done through gay newspapers and through outreaches to bars and pride events, nearly all of the “Be Safe” message never reaches them.

Another huge issue is the availability of low-cost, anonymous testing resources. It is established that people who can get tested are much more likely to get tested, and that provides an opportunity for education. Tests can cost around $50 if paid for retail, and few insurance companies will cover them. Even if you have that kind of money, in much of the south getting a test means either driving a hundred miles or more to a city where you can be tested anonymously or explain to your personal physician why you think you need such a test. The result is that people just don’t get one.

So yeah, a lot needs to change before HIV rates in the black south will change.

(*) It is conveniently ignored by the people pushing the “gay = HIV” lie is that, as of the end of 2010, about 2/3rds of the people on the planet with HIV lived in sub-Saharan Africa. That in several countries in southern Africa — South Africa, Swaziland, Lesotho — 15% to 28% of the adult population is HIV+. That about 10% of all people with HIV are children aged 14 or younger, and that most of those got it from infected mothers either transvaginally during birth or from the virus expressing itself in breast milk. That of all adults on the planet with HIV, 56% are women. And that since 2006, HIV/AIDS is the leading cause of death among women in their reproductive years.

It is pretty damn grim.

He also pointed me to the following collection of links from a presentation he gave for MENSA recently.

AIDS in the South: Religion is the enemy of social justice

The South is the new epicenter of HIV transmission — half of all new infection happen here, though we have less than a third of the American population.  South Carolina is 8th in the nation for rates of HIV, but other southern states are doing poorly as well.  Louisiana, Georgia, Mississippi, Texas… HIV is not going away.  And there’s more bad news, if you get HIV in the south, you’re more likely to die from it.

So why is everybody getting AIDS?  Well, you could look at our education scores, our poverty levels, our resistance to decent health care coverage, the rural populations with little access to doctors, or the Bible thumping hatred of homos that makes people terrified to get tested or admit they’ve contracted the disease.

Those making under $10,000 are three times more likely to get HIV than those making $50,000+.  People making under $10,000 a year can’t afford medicine and doctor visits, they can’t afford to be driven to where they can get tested and get treatment.

And in the south, most poor people are black.  According to the Washington Post, one in five gay black men in the south has HIV.

Researchers say that African Americans in the South are especially likely to see homosexuality as immoral. In response, gay black men in the South often live on the “down low,” leading ostensibly straight lives with girlfriends and wives while having sex with men.

“In the African American community, men who are gay are more likely to hide their sexual activity,” said Saag, who also directs a HIV clinic in Birmingham. “So it’s more common for the virus to spread from gay men to heterosexual women.”

Good work, Good Book.  Religion is also to thank for the limited sex education provided in many of the southern states.  Abstinence only education?  Not great for telling people how to use condoms when they act on hormones or get married.  Combine that approach with the Nikki Haley-esque Christian Conservative approach to healthcare, and you find a lot of people who get missed by healthcare.  25% of people with HIV in SC live in rural areas, care for people far from urban centers is difficult, even more so when your state refuses to fund or accept funding to help them.

So what can be done?  The Washington Post again:

Many who work with HIV patients including Saag, the Birmingham HIV clinic director, are trying to win over churches. Many say that churches in the South often foster HIV stigma, presenting the disease as part of a sinful gay lifestyle. Saag and others are working to persuade pastors to see HIV as a health problem rather than a moral issue. Some observers are hoping that the new Affordable Care Act will improve HIV care in the South, and elsewhere, by increasing funds for Medicare and Medicaid recipients.

You know what else can be done?  Increase the stigma of being a Christian who thinks that helping the poor is bad and being gay is a sin.  Accept that if you’re not black and not gay, you’ve got a lot of privilege and need to work really hard to understand that other people have it worse than you.  We are not all given equal circumstances.  As a white woman in this state, my chances of getting HIV are incredibly small and it’s got nothing to do with my choices and everything to do with how I was born.  If I’d been born a gay black man, I’d have a 20% chance of being HIV positive, which is five hundred times my risk as a white woman.

Why am I telling you this?  Because you should care.  Because social justice issues should be important to atheists. Because religion hurts people. And we can do something about it.

—————————-

Have some stats from the glorious state of South Carolina:

Who has HIV:
04.6% are white women (34.7% of population)
19.4% are white men (33.8% of population)
25.0% are black women (14.2% of population)
46.9% are black men (14.9% of population)

Demographics of the state:
34.7% are white women
33.8% are white men
14.2% are black women
14.9% are black men
(15% of the population makes up almost half the HIV cases)

Percentage of Population w/HIV:
0.04% of white women
0.19% of white men
1.07% of black men
0.51% of black women

Or look at it this way:
1 in 100 black men
1 in 200 black women
1 in 600 white men
1 in 2500 white women

Or look at it this way:
White men are 4.3 times as likely to get HIV than white women.
Black women are 12 times more likely to get HIV than white women, and 2.7 times more likely to get HIV than white men.
Black men are 25 times more likely to get HIV than white women, 5.7 times more likely to get HIV than white men, and over twice as likely to get HIV than black women.

http://www.census.gov/popest/data/state/asrh/2011/SC-EST2011-03.html
http://www.dhec.sc.gov/health/disease/sts/docs/cntyrate_2010.pdf

Help me save South Carolina, the arts, and my mom

Over the weekend, the governor, Nikki Haley, destroyed the South Carolina Commission for the Arts — the cut was such that the 20 people who work there cannot show up to work today, can’t even go into their building, because of liability issues.  The arts in South Carolina brings in $9.2 billion and creates 78,000 jobs at a cost of 1.9 million to the Arts Commission.  It’s a phenomenally stupid cut — our state has one of the two best arts in education programs in the country!  We don’t do a lot well in South Carolina, but this is one of the few we really do.  And now we’re about to be the only state in the country without a public arts agency.

This is political, but I have to let you know it’s deeply personal as well.  I have worked for the Commission, I know everyone who works there, the arts and arts education are extremely important to me, and my mother is the president of the foundation board.  My mother has worked with them for over half of my life — for 15 years she has been on their board and this is her third year as president. Nikki Haley is messing with my mother — that is NOT COOL.

There is good news!  The SC legislature is returning next week to vote on it — the problem is that it is summer vacation and they may not all show.  They also may not get the 2/3rds majority needed to overturn the vetoes.  I need your help.  My mom needs your help.  My state, which is run by idiots but full of wonderful people, needs your help.

Please contact the SC Representatives and Senators and urge them to vote to override Vetoes #1 and #21 – to keep the doors open at the Arts Commission!  Also, let them know that the rest of the vetoes are pretty crappy too — taking money from teachers, schools, important scientific research, and programs to help victims of sexual violence.

Here’s a single contact form to get in touch with:

All the Senators: http://www.scstatehouse.gov/email.php?T=M&C=SMEMBERS

All the House Members: http://www.scstatehouse.gov/email.php?T=M&C=HMEMBERS

I know many of you aren’t from my state, but I think FtB has the power and this movement has the power to put some pressure on these people, and if you’re from South Carolina, you must do this!  Tell them to show up!  Tell them to override the vetoes!  Help my mom!

Ken May, Executive Director, “The state can’t wrest my cellphone from my grip”

EDIT: Passing the need on and sharing is something that you can do to help even if you don’t contact the politicians, please share. And it is on reddit.http://www.reddit.com/r/atheism/comments/w9og0/help_me_save_south_carolina_the_arts_and_my_mom/

Gay Marriage: Blankenhorn’s Conversion

It is human nature to love the story of a convert, but it is even better when the convert is someone who has been fighting against your cause for a long time.  David Blankenhorn was the key witness for the Prop 8 proponents (anti-marriage) and is generally thought to have made a bit of a shambles with the argument — mostly because there was no legitimate argument to be made.  He is now supporting gay marriage.

Blankenhorn’s primary argument up to the conversion had been that marriage is about having children and that same-sex marriage would undermine that purpose.  Despite his longtime support for so-called traditional marriage, he said the following in his testimony, in response to aggressive questioning:

I believe that adoption of same-sex marriage would be likely to improve the well-being of gay and lesbian households and their children.

We would be more American on the day we legalized gay marriage than the day before.

With quotes like these in his testimony it is perhaps unsurprising that the lead witness against Californian’s right to gay marriage is now identifying as a gay marriage supporter.  Blankenhorn’s position has always been more nuanced and humanist than the anti-gay arguments generally given against same-sex marriage and it is refreshing to see him turn that nuanced acumen to a different conclusion.  I happen to massively disagree with his conclusions as to the worth, goals, and historical understanding of marriage, but it is clear he thinks that human dignity and rights are an important part of saving the institution he cares about and the only way to do that is to stop making the defining feature of marriage the fact that it’s for straights only.

His essay in the New York Times is heartening and a reminder that being out and being vocal about your rights does matter and changes the world, even if it is just one person at a time.

I do believe, with growing numbers of Americans, that the time for denigrating or stigmatizing same-sex relationships is over. Whatever one’s definition of marriage, legally recognizing gay and lesbian couples and their children is a victory for basic fairness.

Best of Before Freethought Blogs

From Miley Cyrus' Occupy Video

If you’re interested in learning more about what I do, I recommend you click on the speaking tab above, it includes most of the speeches and media by/about/including me.

The following are the most popular posts from my blog:

Ron Paul

Last December, I wrote a post in which I spoke about Ron Paul in less than glowing terms.  This earned me a lot of hate.  And a lot of views.

The Original Post

The Collection of Hate Commentary
(Warning: Violence, Rape, “Cunts”)

Best of Hate Commentary as read by a Hippo

My Song about Ron Paul:

Sarah Palin and Gabby Giffords

When Gabby Giffords got shot, I wrote about how the violent rhetoric of politics, particularly from the right, is bad for America. Post here.

Sexual Harassment and TAM

I have weighed in on this several times — I was harassed at TAM last year, and the problem was addressed very quickly, but I still have problems with the way DJ talks about the issue.

TAM 8: Slut Shaming

The Sexist Speaker Problem

TAM9: How I was harassed and how DJ dealt with it. My main takeaways of the online discussion, my angry fact-correction of DJ, and Why Women Don’t Report Harassment.

Eddie Kritzer: The Scam Artist

A “manager” or “agent” or “disgusting troll who used my business contact to actually call me to talk about having sex with me”, depending on who you ask. Advice: if someone asks you for a fee upfront to read your screenplay, they are not legit.  Further advice: If you want to hate someone, I highly recommend reading the disgusting e-mails he sent to me.  Warning: Graphic.

Blog Posts in chronological order: 1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   10   11   12   13   14

Some of my favorites:

Why Miley Cyrus is Cooler Than You Think

Boobaversary: In Defense of Plastic Surgery

How SCOTUS will vote on Prop 8 and Scalia in Lawrence v Texas

Tron: Legacy’s lack of women and the sad state of women in film

The Dangers of Personhood Amendments

Prop 8 Comics Presents: Too Gay for the Bench

Prop 8: All About the Accidental Pregnancies (on Salon)

Women in Secularism: The Good, The Bad, The Awesome

Earlier this year I had to make a financial choice — I could either afford to go to DC for the Women in Secularism conference or I could afford to go to Vegas for The Amazing Meeting.  I say this not to denigrate TAM, but I could not have made a better decision.  The Women in Secularism conference is far and away the best atheist/skeptic conference that I’ve ever been to.  If you missed it, and you probably did, you need to not miss it again.

One of the things that I have trouble with in this movement is the lack of focus on issues that “matter”.  I came to the secular movement from the LGBT movement, fresh off of the Prop 8 loss, I discovered that out-and-proud atheists also had a movement, and I was eager to join a fight that I thought impacted everything, including LGBT and women’s issues.  So I went to the OCFA conference, to local skeptic and atheist meetups, I went to TAM, to Dragon*Con’s Skeptrack, to the SCA lobbying training, I wrote about it here, I wrote about it for secular.org, I gave speeches.  In short, I got involved.

Photo by Brian Engler

This month is my two year anniversary of being involved with this movement and, as someone who cares deeply about social justice, it has very often been a very difficult movement to be a part of.  For me the great appeal of secularism, the great tragedy of religion, and my own personal passion for this cause is all centered around the fact that religion is the source of many evils or used to justify those evils perpetrated against humanity.  As was said several times over the weekend, UFOs and Bigfoot aren’t that important to me, skepticism is much more interesting when applied to issues that impact people’s lives in serious ways.  Children, minorities, people of color, women, poor people, the disabled, the elderly, LGBT, and other marginalized groups would benefit so much from having the tragic consequences of religious bigotry removed from their lives.

So when people in charge of important organizations speak on a panel at TAM to say that social justice isn’t and shouldn’t be within the purview of skepticism, or people in my local atheist group leave because they think it is inappropriate that someone posted a link to a story about the Rally Against the War on Women because who cares about that feminist bullshit, or important people in the movement tell me not to bother submitting something to TAM if it has anything to do, even tangentially, with women’s issues, I start to doubt why I am even involved.

This conference was the antidote to that.  If you are someone in this movement who wants it to be about creating change in the world, this is the conference you should have been at.  If you are someone who thinks all that atheists and skeptics should do is talk about is why the bible is stupid and why UFOs aren’t real, then it really wasn’t for you.  I think that UFOs and critiquing the Bible and all of that are important discussions, but I think they are a reflection of an old, traditional, white male scientist way of thinking, and it’s not why I want to be involved.

I know why I am involved, and this conference was it.  In reality, it wasn’t the “Women in Secularism” conference, it was the “Secularism for Social Justice” conference.  I am proud to have been a part of it.

HIGHLIGHTS (all quotes paraphrased)

  • Typing 13000 words while liveblogging
  • I place as much value on anonymous comments made on blogs as I do on statements of eternal love made after a late night drinking at a bar. – Susan Jacoby
  • This conference is a good start, the first of its kind, but these panels BELONG in regular conferences. There are places for these issues at every conference we hold. Especially on science and education. Things have not changed enough, and women are the primary educators and caregivers. Secular organizations, if they want more women, are going to have to address this. The reason men aren’t here isn’t because the conference isn’t welcome, but because men in the movement don’t give a shit about this. – Susan Jacoby
  • Both religion and sexism are hard to give up. They’re ingrained and it’s tough to overcome, especially because it’s not conscious. Giving up religion feels freeing, but giving up sexist beliefs as a man isn’t necessarily freeing because it means examining, acknowledging, and confronting privilege. It feels like reentering a place where you’re made to feel guilty. But sexism impacts men too, and men don’t seem to realize it. Men get called girly as an insult and are driven away from being themselves if they’re not “man enough”. They don’t care about reproductive rights. As though they don’t have to deal with getting a girl preggo. – Jen McCreight
  • Sikivu and Ophelia disagreeing strongly, and talking about it rationally and pleasantly.
  • Recognition of the underground acknowledgement of the bad guys in the movement and how women are afraid to speak up about it because it will hurt them instead of the well-known man.
  • Panel arguments that were over details of implementation and how to fight, not over whether there was a problem in the first place
  • I have never found a trace of morality in my own religion – Wafa Sultan
  • The complete rejection of the Prime Directive and everyone agreeing that helping women in other cultures is a moral duty, not cultural imperialism.
  • It’s cultural imperialism to help these women? Tell the to the girl who had her clitoris cut off, tell that to the girls who had acid thrown on their faces for going to school, tell that to the women being stoned to death for the crime of being raped. Tell that to them and then FUCK YOU.  – Greta Christina
  • Having a military base in Saudi Arabia isn’t imperialism but opening a school is? If you can invade a country how can you not open schools? We need more secular schools, not more army bases! – Wafa Sultan
  • Wafa Motherfucking Sultan.  For many personal reasons, it was a very difficult and traumatic talk to sit through and I was nearly sobbing by the end of it, if I hadn’t been transcribing, I’m sure I would have been.  I hope that this talk goes up first, it needs to be seen.
  • A lot of people are talking about issues that apparently have nothing to do with secularism, should Catholic hospitals get public funding and refuse to give the morning after pill, should black boys be frisked without probable cause in NYC, we are skeptics, we’re good with numbers, we should care about it. These stories, we who are skeptical, we who believe that morality does not come down from on high, we who understand that it is our obligation as humans to first do no harm and make sure that others are not harmed, have to — HAVE TO — tell our stories. – Jamila Bey
  • We’re so foundational. If I can convince people to spend more time thinking about things, using critical thinking, it’ll fix a lot of these other problems I’m fighting for. Because our message is so basic and foundational, I think that it is a part of everything else. – Debbie Goddard

NITPICKS

  • Some of the talks were either too broad and not focused enough.  I say this with absolute love, because there was not woman who spoke that I didn’t want to hear more from, but many of the talks were so detail rich on such a broad topic that they were very difficult to follow.  Annie Laurie Gaylor was particularly guilty of this, I’m afraid I didn’t retain very much of what she talked about because it was basically just a list of names.  Her argument, which was that women have historically been freethinkers, could have been made in a way that wasn’t as hard to follow.  I just didn’t know any of the names or have any point of reference.  Susan Jacoby did a lot of the using names without explaining who they are thing as well.
  • Using cards to take questions was great, but I didn’t have access to any and would have had to interrupt the session or leave to get cards to be able to ask questions.  I think there needs to be a stack under each chair.  Especially since my neighbors all grabbed all of the cards immediately when they sat down so I had none!
  • The talks were too long, I’d rather have heard shorter talks from more people and some of them felt a little stretched out, I’m thinking of Bernice Sandler’s in particular, but just generally I think hour long talks are excessive when you’ve got so many other people who didn’t get to speak.  The panels were the perfect length.
  • Attendance.  I would have liked to see a lot more men and people of color in the audience.  I said it was the Social Justice in Secularism conference, and I think that’s how it should be advertised, because it wasn’t just about women and it wasn’t just for women and women’s issues are human rights issues.  So much of what we covered this year was new territory for these conferences, I hope that the conference continues and continues to expand into covering topics like prison reform and drug policy — things that impact women even though they aren’t traditionally thought of as “women’s issues” and were brought up several times over the weekend.
  • I admit that, because I work in media and I study media, I am unusually focused on this, but I wish that there had been more time spent on addressing the representation of women in the media.  And if you need someone to rant about that next year, I’m sure I’m only one of a whole lot of women in the movement who could go on and on for hours.

Readin’ a list; Photo by Brian Engler

And my final complaint, which is not a nitpick and not the fault of the conference, is the tragic performance of Edwina Rogers, who literally read a list from an old power point presentation over the course of 15 minutes and then left the conference entirely without taking any questions.  She had been there before the speech, available to be approached, so she wasn’t hiding entirely and I wouldn’t accuse her of that, she was just avoiding having to publicly answer questions.  And she clearly was not hired to be a charismatic public speaker and I never missed the overly enthusiastic rabble rousing of Sean Faircloth more.  This wasn’t just my response, I heard this from several people who didn’t know anything about her background.

I also had the opportunity to meet her and I was disappointed in that as well.  She just threw talking points at me about opening state chapters, and she and Woody, her handler from the SCA, both acted like they didn’t know who I was.  This despite the fact that I was recruited by the SCA to be one of the the first bloggers for their organization’s website, I spent hours and hours last year with Woody, led a panel discussion for the SCA last year, and have sent them much feedback and, admittedly unsolicited, advice about Edwina.  If they don’t know who I am, it’s insulting, and if they do know and they acted like they don’t, that’s even more insulting.

That said, Melody Hensley did an amazing job with this and deserves all of the credit in the world.  Conferences, especially first ones, are incredibly difficult to pull off.  This was so much better than I had hoped for, I have come away impressed by everyone involved.  Well, almost.

I will be adding a list of resources mentioned while I was taking notes over the weekend, for people who want to read more or watch videos that were recommended.