Attempts at Theism – Prayer

I’m one of those weird new atheists who didn’t leave some religion. While both of my parents went to church as kids (Dad Protestant, Mom Greek Orthodox), they pretty much left me to my own devices. We never went to church, I was never told about God or Jesus, and I didn’t really even know what religion was until I was about 12 and started hearing about it from friends. My dad always told me to just be a good person via the golden rule, and everything would sort itself out. It was more important to be good than to be a jerk who goes to church. Now my dad is probably an atheist (or a very atheisty agnostic) and my mom is one of those wishy washy agnostic theists who hopes there’s some sort of higher power thingy to make the world a happy place.

I can go on and on about my various experiences, but one thing just popped into my head now. For people who were basically raised as atheists, there might have been a time where you thought you were supposed to be religious. Was there ever a time you tried to pray just out of the hopes that it would work?

I attempted prayer a total of two times, both around the time where I was in my Hopeful Deist stage. The first was when I was 14, and my cat had died. Now, this was the most lovable cat in the world, and I had him my entire life (he was 18). I was sort of a lonely awkward little kid, so he was my friend when I didn’t have anyone else. It sounds kind of pathetic saying it now, but it was the first time something close and comforting had been taken away from me. I was crying for days about it, to the point where I couldn’t sleep. One night I asked my deisty God that if he existed (and wanted to stop being deisty for a moment), to please give me the strength to stop crying.

I did stop crying about my cat, but looking back, I know it wasn’t some divine being that gave me the strength. It was from inside of me (cue the cheesy music). By asking for that strength, I had made up my mind that I needed to move on, and move on I did.

The other time was when I was convinced I was pregnant…even though I was a virgin. Yes, that sounds ridiculous, but 16 year old girl logic isn’t the best. When you’ve fooled around with your boyfriend to any degree and your period is just a tad late, you’re convinced the boy has super-sperm that can dissolve through the air from a meter away and still get up your vajayjay somehow. Saying I was scared shitless is an understatement. Praying seemed like a better alternative than jumping out a window, so pray I did. I promised God I wouldn’t do such naughty things if he gave me a free pass this time through (Um…a promise I’m kind of failing at. Whoops, oh well).

A couple days later, my monthly visitor finally came. Do I really think God did it? Of course not. But at the time, it was comforting thinking the situation was in the hands of someone who could do something about it. Maybe that relaxation releaved some of the stress that was making it late in the first place. I can only speculate, but I think it does show how prayers can make people feel better even if they’re not being directly answered. And to an extent, they create a sort of placebo effect that actually helps out.

The actual efficacy of prayer is a whole other topic. The thing I find most interesting is that these two positive situations still didn’t make me suddenly believe in God. Even though my prayers were “answered,” I think I knew I was just tricking myself into believing them for the benefits. Double think is an amazing and scary thing. I wonder how many theists are in a similar situation.

Hemant Talk!

Hemant Mehta gave a talk for us today at Purdue… I finally got to meet my favorite blogger/quasi-famous internet celebrity! Yay! …I will repress the rest of my fangirl squealing, because I kind of think he reads this. Knowing he has cute atheist girls squeeing over him may go to his head ;)

On that note, I think we solved any monetary problems his blog may have. Let some porn website put the ad “Sexy Atheist Women in Your Area” on his blog. What guy wouldn’t click that?

Nebraska Trip Mini-Recap

I was in Lincoln, Nebraska this weekend for the Midwest Ecology and Evolution Conference (that’s some exciting stuff right there). It was a ten hour drive through brown, empty farmland. The only highlights of the drive were crossing the Mississippi (took a couple minutes to figure out what that giant body of water was…doh), seeing all the cool giant wind turbines, and this gas station:
Is this seriously a chain out in the great plains? That’s the most horrendous name ever. I was giggling like a 13 year old for a while over this one.

The University of Nebraska Lincoln had a really nice campus. It was a total ghost town though…not just campus, but all of Lincoln. There were no people or cars anywhere. Did they hear the evolutionists were coming and leave or something?

Anyway, the conference itself was pretty good. I got to hear great talks by David Quammen, Svata Louda, Randy Moore, and David Hillis. Randy Moore was the winner of the Discovery Institute’s Award for Most Dogmatic Indoctrinator in an Evolutionary Biology Course, and his talk was about the history of creationism in the US. Pretty interesting, since I only knew about modern figures. Since we talked a lot about people like Dawkins and PZ Myers in the Q&A, I introduced myself as the President of the Society of Non-Theists afterwards and got a loud “Good for you!” Woot!

My favorite part was that our poster session was held in Elephant Hall, a natural history museum on campus focusing on mastadons. Their statue pretty much owns our lame Neil Armstrong statue at Purdue:
It was pretty wonderfully random having a poster session surrounded by fossils and fake elephants. It’s also home to the largest mastadon statue ever discovered (at least, according to the little informational thingy). I’m really glad these things aren’t around anymore. Except for the dwarf mammoth. That thing looked adorable, and was the size of a medium dog. Apparently the ancient Greeks used to think its skull was from a cyclops, since its nasal cavity leaves a weird hole in its head. I just sort of want it as a pet <3

They also had an Irish Elk skeleton, which is my favorite story of runaway sexual selection ever. Not to mention a gigantic armadillo thing:

In conclusion, nature is fucking awesome. This is why I love being a biologist <3

Resolution to Panel Situation

So, there’s somewhat of a resolution about the panel debacle I was in on Thursday. I talked with the diversity program dude I mentioned before, and he reassured me that this professor has had panels many times in the past that went well, and that she’s very understanding of diversity and sought us out in order to be more inclusive. He suggested I email her telling my concerns and how I felt about the situation, along with some advice on how to have this go better in the future, which I did.

It turns on the professor actually wasn’t the one running the talk. The prof was out of town and had asked one of her TAs to lead the discussion…the TA just never introduced herself, so I wrongly assumed she was the professor. She was incredibly apologetic (sincerely) and assured me that she didn’t want any such situation to happen, and that she would like to have my help in the future with dealing with non-theism issues. It seems what happened was a lack of communication between her and her TAs, and the TAs and us due to her being out of town.

I know there will probably be some cynics out there who think this is all just a big cover up, but I consider myself a pretty good judge of character, and this all seems to be a big misunderstanding. Trust me, I’ve been in malicious situations against non-theists, and I can tell the difference. If anything, take this as a warning against automatically jumping to conclusions and being hasty. I would have hating going straight to the Dean or whatever some of you suggested only to find out it was something minor. The last thing I want to do is accidentally alienate allies to non-theists because of paranoia.

Update

We’re having a quick break at the conference, so I wanted to thank Hemant for asking people for help about my panel problem, and for all the advice that I’ve received. Last night I wrote a long email detailing what happened and my concerns, and sent it to the head of one of our main diversity programs here at Purdue. He was the one initially asked if he knew any non-theists who could participate, and he has been very friendly to us in the past. I wanted his advice before going straight to a TA or the professor or a dean. Like I said, I like to give people the benefit of the doubt (innocent until proven guilty and all), so I didn’t want to stir up trouble for no reason. Saying that, I made clear that I believe they should both know about my concerns so at the very least this doesn’t happen again in the future.

I’ll keep you updated on what happens. Until then, back to my biology conference!

Duped and Annoyed

I’ll be leaving for a three day biology conference in Nebraska early tomorrow morning. If the blog is dead, that’s why.

On Monday I agreed to be a part of a panel for a class here titled Communicating Across Cultures…one of those required classes everyone loves to take. All I was told is the class was discussing religious oppression on campus, and that needed a non-theist for a panel to answer questions from the audience. I said sure. I asked for more details about what specific questions were going to be asked, but they never replied. I shrugged it off, thinking it was just short notice, and along with my agnostic friend (who was the one who directed them to me), went to the panel this morning.

Unfortunately, I felt like I’d been duped.

Maybe duped is too harsh of a word. I generally like to give people the benefit of the doubt that they’re not being malicious, but either way, I was seriously annoyed. I arrived about ten minutes early and sat waiting with Agnostic Friend until class was going to start, with no real instruction from the professor. She then asked us to sit down with the other panelists…one of which is a middle aged man. Okay, I think, maybe he’s in charge of some diversity program.

She introduces us to the class, and says that we’re going to take about 5 to 7 minutes to explain why we believe what we believe, and then we’ll open it up for questions. Agnostic Friend and I exchange looks of “Eep, wish she would have warned us about that.” Unfortunately for him (and thankfully for me), she asked him to start first. He talked for about 2 minutes, basically just briefly defining what it meant to be an agnostic. It was then my turn, and I probably stammered on about atheism for about 3 or 4 minutes. It’s hard enough listing all the reasons why you’re an atheist in less then five minutes when it’s taken you a decade to figure out, but I tried my best. I thought I did a pretty good job for having absolutely no notice about the question.

That is, until the next person spoke. The older guy wasn’t just some diversity person…he was a professor and doctor at our student health center. And not only was he presenting the Christian view point, but he had a typed up perfectly organized speech, full of all the usual horrible arguments for God and Christianity (which I will talk about after the biology conference). On top of all that, he’s beautifully eloquent, charismatic, and filling his introduction with personal, emotional, funny stories. I know they’re horrible arguments, but that they’re going to sound amazing to the audience, especially after my improvized talk. To make matters worse, the fourth panelist was a graduate and former head of the Muslim Student Association…and had an actual Powerpoint presentation that he had obviously given many times before.

You can understand why I’m pretty annoyed. The two non-theist junior undergraduates are sitting up there, not even notified what the main question (or even PURPOSE) of the presentation is, while two eloquent, older, and more prepared theists make us look like unprepared fools. It was honestly embarassing…not because I’m not able to make good presentations or arguments (because I can *grumble*), but because I had absolutely no warning while they obviously did. Not only am I personally embarassed, but I regret losing this opportunity to present atheism to a large group of students who 1. probably never encountered it and 2. now won’t ever want to encounter it again.

Of course, even if I was prepared, would it really have been fair facing me off against Mr. Professor Doctor “I’ve Traveled the world and dined with Kings” Former Atheist Saw the Light Jesus Cures What Even Medicine Can’t? I’m fairly certain even the brightest 21 year olds with the best arguments will look foolish when debating a charismatic “adult” with horrendous arguments.

The cherry on top was that because the format was Q&A, I never got a chance to refute any of the garbage the Christian and Muslim were saying. I guess that gives me some blogging material for after my trip.

Gay Bashing at Sports Bar

Interesting social experiment done by ABC. If anything, it shows how some people put up a facade of tolerance when being questioned, but in reality act like homophobic jerks. No big surprise there.

Is Anti-Theism Necessarily Bad?

Today I went to an event titled Non-Theism and the Right to Freedom from Religion, which was part of a diversity conference on campus. What could have been a decent presentation was ruined by the fact that a whopping 8 people showed up, including myself. Regardless, we still had some interesting discussions about the public perception of atheism in the US and the separation of church and state.

One key point the presenters repeated was that atheism does not necessarily equal anti-theism. Now, this is completely true – not all atheists are necessarily against religion. In fact, I’d say the vast majority of atheists are apathetic about the whole atheism/theism debate. The problem, however, is that the presenters kept labeling anti-theism as this horrible thing that atheists need to distance themselves from in order to be publicly accepted. Before I say anything, I want to clarify that by anti-theism I mean being against religion, religious beliefs, religious practices…but not religious individuals. This is the same definition that the presenters were using.

But is anti-theism really that bad?

I’d argue no, it’s not, assuming you’re not treating the actual religious individual poorly or trying to oppress their rights to have such beliefs. In fact, I think it’s crucial that we are able to criticize beliefs and customs that we find dangerous, ridiculous, and/or false.* What if we didn’t speak out against these things we disagreed with? Why is it okay for me to disagree with Republicans, pro-lifers, racists**, but not with Christians, Muslims, or Hindus?

I know the answer: Nobody enjoys having their beliefs criticized, but especially not ones as important as religion. If we didn’t feel strongly that our beliefs are correct (or at least the best option), we wouldn’t have those beliefs! So it’s understandable that people get upset when you say “There probably is no God,” “Scaring children with hell is tantamount to child abuse,” or “Homosexuality is not wrong.” But just because their annoyance is understandable doesn’t mean we should go out of our way to not offend their sensibilities. It doesn’t mean when someone says “It’s my religious belief” to defend an argument that we need to throw up our hands and go “Oh shucks, well, can’t beat that!” Of course not.

Religious belief shouldn’t be sacred (pardon my word choice). It needs to stand up to criticism in the marketplace of ideas just like every other belief or practice. By giving religion a Get Out of Jail Free card and having criticism be taboo, we create an environment where bad ideas spread because…well, no one gets to point out that they’re bad ideas.

Now, should atheists still distance themselves from anti-theism in order to gain public acceptance? On one hand, I feel strongly that we need to be able to speak up and voice our disagreements. On the other hand, it’s a lot more difficult convincing people you’re a decent person when they view your opinions as attacks on what they hold dearest. I think our best chance is to convince people that religious belief must stand up to criticism like any other idea, and that acceptance of atheism will eventually follow. Not exactly an easy task, but stuff like this is never simple.

*I’m in no way saying that all religious things fall into these categories, but I think even most religious people will agree with me that some do.

**Again, not saying these groups are equally bad or anything silly like that. Just examples of things I disagree with.

Harry Potter and the Horrible Video Games

There’s a new interview over at IGN about the 6th Harry Potter game for Wii. It looks like the new game will be just as craptacular as the 5th on. Yes, I bought the 5th Harry Potter game for Wii, but let me take a moment to explain myself. I’ve been a rabid Harry Potter fan since I first started reading the books when I was 11. Upon buying my Wii, there were practically no other games out other than Wii Sports and Barbie Ice Princess or whatever other junk they’re trying to sell to broaden the Wii’s target audience (to include 5 year old girls, apparently). While desperately scanning Gamestop’s selection, my eyes paused on Harry Potter. The conversation in my head went something like this:

“Don’t do it,” said Logical Jen. “It’s a mass marked piece of crap meant to have 12 year olds waste their mommy’s money.”

“But, but,” pouted Fangril Jen, “it’s Harry Potter. And for Wii! I can wave my Wiimote around like a wand and be magical!”

“It’s fifty dollars-”

“I WANT TO BE MAGICAL!”

And so I wasted 50 dollars. I amused myself for about an hour by flying a table around the Gryffindor common room and into the faces of my classmates. After that I was seriously disappointed that I couldn’t set everything on fire. If you give me a wand and the ability to make things spontaneously ignite, I don’t want to just light a fireplace. I want a Slytherin first year running around in fear. And honestly, would that be all that different than the chaos that goes on in the books? I’ll even settle for Filch chasing me around for being bad – as long as it’s realistic!

After the initial glee of foolish wand waving, however, I realized the game had absolutely no plot. It was an endless list of pointless mini games sending you from one end of the castle to the other. Not only that, but the Wiimote controls were so shoddy that you couldn’t even perform the spell you wanted half the time. I can go on and on about how horrible the game was, but I’ll sum it up in saying it is the only video game I’ve ever sold back to a store. Even Super Monkey Ball has somehow managed to stay on my shelf (it’s a great dust collector).

So why am I ranting about a game I gave up on over a year ago? Because it looks like EA Games is doing absolutely nothing to make the new Harry Potter game any better. I know I shouldn’t be surprised. I know this is just an easy cash machine for them, and making real gamers happy isn’t their goal. But it’s the principle of the matter.

They can potentially use the Wii Motion Plus to get great control for spell movements…but do they? No.

They can have endless amounts of interesting things to include from the book…but do they? No, they’re “true to the movie,” which is like saying it’s Harry Potter filtered through yet another level of shittiness.

They’ve had extra time to work on the game since the movie was pushed back…but do they? Of course not (Though it may have been beyond that point, I’m cranky, so I don’t want to give them the benefit of the doubt). Why try to make a game excellent when mediocre still makes you money?

I know my whining isn’t going to do anything about it, but it still annoys the hell out of me how games (and movies, and books, etc) will sacrifice quality for money. It’s the same reason why we’ll never see an full story Pokemon game for Wii. While it would be piss-your-pants amazing, Nintendo can make just as much money pumping out simpler sequels for their hand held systems. I just ask that someone stops me from buying Harry Potter 6 for Wii before the rabid fangirl in me takes over.