Religion is bullshit…except for mine!

Last night I gave a talk for the Alliance of Happy Atheists at the University of Oregon. It was a lot of fun, like usual. The group of students were all awesome to talk to, the pizza was yummy, and my talk was well received (or so I was told – would an Alliance of Happy Atheists say anything negative…?).

Near the end of my talk I mention how feminists who are still religious are way more likely to believe in woo-woo spiritual stuff, like reiki, astrology, paganism, and wicca because they tend to be a lot more pro-women. But the problem with these things is that they’re still bullshit, just like Christianity or Islam.

Apparently one student took offense at this because he considers himself an atheist pagan, and he didn’t appreciate his beliefs being dismissively called “bullshit.” During the Q&A he asked me if I saw value in any sort of spiritual beliefs. I replied that people find value in different things – that I find value in truth, so unfounded beliefs in any sort of supernatural things don’t improve my life somehow. But that even if people found their lives improved by those things, it doesn’t make them any less bullshit.

The back and forth went on for quite some time. He basically seemed to be rewording his question in an attempt for me to admit that other spirituality – not that of mainstream religions – is somehow awesome and deserving of a free pass. I tried to emphasize that I don’t think people who believe that stuff are necessarily stupid or bad in some way, but that the beliefs are still false.

At dinner a friend of his mentioned how offended that guy was that I used the word “bullshit” and didn’t respect his pagan beliefs. I always feel a twinge of guilt, because I never purposefully try to offend. But I can’t feel much more than a twinge, because it’s goddamn hypocritical expecting your particular wacky beliefs to get some sort of free pass. If you were lapping it up while I spent 45 minutes tearing apart Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism, you don’t get to put your own belief in a little bubble.

Everything is fair game.

And dude? I reel it in a fair amount when I give presentations. Make sure someone brings smelling salts if you ever listen to a hot-blooded firebrand like PZ or JT.

I love my Dad

Here’s his reaction to finding out the city council where he and my mom live are praying to Jesus:

It has come to my attention that the Constitution is being threatened in Lady Lake, Florida. For you who have never heard of Lady Lake, it is part of a retirement development known as The Villages. The average inhabitant is about 70+ years old. It’s a great place if you love golf and living an active lifestyle. However, it should be no surprise that it’s prime tea-bag party area. The local newspaper’s favorite columnist is Ollie North, a convicted felon. It also should come as no surprise that the local city council starts every meeting with a secular prayer. The city council says its’ prayer is not meant to favor any one religion, in spite of the fact that they usually end with, “in Jesus’ name we pray”. They also claim they are doing nothing illegal, since the meeting doesn’t officially start until the prayer is completed.

Although I am not surprised by this development, since most of the residences are gun nuts, religious zealots, and war mongers, but I have found that there are also some sane people. I play tennis with a group of guys who are surprisingly liberal. Recently, they asked my opinion on Huckabee for President, and I issued a disclaimer that I was an atheist and I considered all right wing religious politicians as the vanguard for the American Taliban. Instead of stoning me, they wanted to know more about my opinions. I told them, When I am King, people will be able to express their religious beliefs freely in church and their home, but will have to keep their mouth zipped in public. There will be no tax deductions for churches and you will no longer be able to run for office claiming God told you to do it. Everyone knows there is only one god — The Golf God — and he has plenty of bad golf swings in The Villages to keep him/her busy without taking on politics.

I’m becoming convinced that snark is a heritable trait. Quick, someone do a genetic analysis!

I bitch about Indiana, but…

…women have it much worse elsewhere. From Butterflies and Wheels:

Nine years after the gang rape, Mai’s struggle for justice ended with the court ordering five of the six accused to be freed. A distraught Mai, who has won international acclaim for her bravery in a deeply chauvinistic society, said that the release of the men had put her life in danger.

It was such a pretty story. Her 12-year-old brother was accused, falsely, of having sex with a woman from another clan. To punish the brother, the village “elders” sitting as a tribal “court” decided Mai should be gang-raped, and so she was. 14 men were accused of carrying out the “sentence.” Only one has been found guilty.

“I am scared these 13 people will come back to my village and harm me and my family,” Mai said, in her remote home in the south of Punjab province. “I have lost faith in the courts and now I am leaving my case to the court of God. I am sure God will punish those who molested me.”

Mai has started a school for girls and a non-governmental organisation that promotes women’s education. She vowed that she would not flee her village, and would continue with her work.

This is one of those very few times I’ll say “If only there was a God.”

Despair and hope in Indiana

The bad news first:

Indiana is on the way to becoming the first state to prohibit Medicaid patients from visiting Planned Parenthood clinics after the Senate today approved a bill that would cut off taxpayer money to the Planned Parenthood of Indiana because it performs abortions.

“The taxpayers will no longer fund an organization that provides abortion as part of their services that they give to the public,” said Sen. Mike Young, R-Indianapolis, who introduced the bill for the sponsor, Sen. Pat Miller.

The Senate voted 13 to 35 to approve HB1210, a wide-ranging abortion bill that would cut off federal taxpayer funds to Planned Parenthood of Indiana.

The bill also sets 20 weeks as the cut-off when a woman can no longer seek an abortion. The current cut-off is viability, which a doctor determines, usually around 24 weeks. It codifies into law the idea that a fetus feels pain at 20 weeks and it requires doctors to tell women seeking abortions certain information, such as that abortion is linked to infertility.

Aka, lie and harm thousands of women in the process. Good going, Indiana!

If you’d like a small respite from the rage, I’d like to direct you to this delightful feminist rant by a 10 year old girl from Avon, IN. A small glimmer of hope that Indiana doesn’t suck the intelligence and independence out of everyone. But at the same time, a sad reminder of the kind of misogynistic environment this little girl is growing up in.

A long time ago I knew a very similar little girl – she moved away from that backwards state the moment she could.

Sexiness & blogging – a lose-lose situation?

Months ago I was approached by JT Eberhard who asked me if I wanted to pose for their 2011 Skepticon pin-up calendar. It’s one of the fun fundraising techniques they have to keep Skepticon free. I would be posing alongside other outspoken atheists like Greta Christina, Rebecca Watson, and PZ Myers.

JT stressed I could pose however I wanted, however clothed I wanted – something sexy and fun doesn’t require nudity. I joked that I would do it if I could be Miss December 2012 because of the destructive nature of my boobs. I even used it as my April Fool’s Day joke this year.

But joking aside, it’s been festering in my brain for a while. Sex Positive Jen and Frustrated Blogger Jen have had the following debate on the issue:

SPJ: You should so do it! It’ll be fun.
FBJ: You know you’re just asking for trouble.
SPJ: But there’s nothing wrong with a pin-up calendar! I’d be embracing my sexuality. And it’s not objectifying women or anything – they have men too, and most of the poses are funny or smart.
FBJ: You understand that. But just think how others will react. Some feminists will use this as evidence that You’re Doing It Wrong.
SPJ: I’ve learned not every feminist is going to agree with me.
FBJ: But worse, this will just perpetuate the misconception that you’re only liked for your looks.
SPJ: Dude, I’ve always been the nerdy awkward girl. The idea of people only liking me for my looks is somewhat absurd. If anything, this is the first time I will get to embrace my looks! For once I can feel sexy.
FBJ: Your ridiculous self-esteem aside, people do know you as “the boobquake girl.” You’ll perpetuate that and have to deal with it. Do you really want more people asking you to sign your calendar than your book?
SPJ: Do I want to cover up just because of what others may say? That’s wrong!
FBJ: Hmm…
SPJ: Hmm indeed.

So, I don’t know what I’m going to do. But an interesting point? I don’t think PZ had this thought process before he agreed. Ah, double standards and the joys of being a young female blogger.

I can be laptop-less no longer

So I’m turning to you for advice, readers! I figured that would be the smart thing to do before accidentally buying a piece of crap. I basically want a laptop that is:

– Easily portable and lightweight, but not a netbook (absurdly tiny screens make me weep)
- Cheap enough that it won’t make a grad student cry
- Not a Mac (save the rants, I’m just not used to them)

Really, that’s all I care about. I’m basically going to be using it for internet and word processing, so it doesn’t have to be super fabulous – it’s not replacing my desktop. I want it for taking notes during class, doing homework or working on presentations while traveling, and being able to waste time on the internet somewhere other than my apartment. Need to abuse those Seattle coffee shops.

I appreciate all suggestions on what to investigate or avoid!

What do you call interfaith volunteering where atheists participate?

Volunteering.

That’s partially why I think the push for atheist inclusion in interfaith panels and organizations is so silly. Atheism is not a faith. In fact, it’s the complete absence of faith. Therefore, it is not interfaith. Case closed.

If that simple dictionary definition wasn’t enough, getting atheists involved with Interfaith This and That perpetuates the idea that atheism is just another religion, a stereotype that many atheists have grown weary of debunking. Even if you want to use the label “Humanist” instead, the core principles still remain that we are free of dogma and faith – that our values are based on reason. We can set up chaplaincies and talk about ethics until we’re blue in the face, but we’re still not a faith – at best we’re a philosophy.

Now, I have nothing against atheists, humanists, and pastafarians doing volunteering – it helps to reduce stereotypes of atheists being cruel, unsympathetic people. And I have no problem with atheists doing these things alongside theists, because it also shows that we can temporarily put aside our differences when working toward a common goal. That we may think you’re silly for believing in a zombie savior, but at least we can agree on feeding the hungry or curing diseases.

But that still doesn’t make it interfaith, sorry.

You know what I do have a problem with, though? The interfaith people who say the debaters and the intellectuals need to shut up and just sing kumbaya with religion. I like Chris Stedman, but he had me raging at the last SSA conference where he made the same argument. Where we shouldn’t criticize religion ever, because it’s going to hurt someone’s feelings, and how interfaith was so superior than those firebrand atheists. Even in an otherwise nice piece, he can’t help but add:

Can we set aside intellectualizing and debating, even just for a moment, and start putting our money where other people’s mouths are?

Um, no.

For one, everyone is good at different things. I don’t know how many times I have to say this, but some people are good at being firebrands, and some people are good at being diplomats. There is no one right way to make progress in a movement, so stop telling people they’re doing it wrong. Feel free to volunteer and be bffs with all the religious people you want. But don’t tell me to shut up because I dare to criticize how someone’s beliefs are harmful not just to them, but to our country and our world.

But two…right now, the “accepting” interfaith movement is full of hypocrisy. It’s totally fine for religious people in the interfaith movement to disagree about things – that’s the whole concept of interfaith work. But an atheist disagrees with them? Then they’re just being an asshole and need to shut up. We saw this sort of reaction with Everybody Draw Mohammed Day – when the atheists stood by their values, they were the ones in the wrong. They were the ones who needed to shut up lest they offend the others in the group.

A friend of mine who’s very active in getting atheists involved in interfaith says he agrees with me to an extent – but that he argues from practicality, while I’m arguing from idealism. He says atheist involvement in interfaith is just a way of sapping some resources from religion and getting our ideas out there. That we need to start setting up tax exempt Humanist chaplaincies, and get other government money that’s targeted toward religious volunteering groups.

Funny. I rather uphold the separation of church and state and remove tax exempt status and government funding of religion. Maybe that’s the dirtier, longer fight, but I think it’s ultimately the right one.

But that’s just me being an idealist.

Upcoming speaking schedule

…Yes, PZ’s post reminded me that I should do this. I’m not nearly as busy as he is, but I’m still pretty sure I overbooked myself for this quarter. Yikes.

4/22/2011
Eugene, OR
Alliance of Happy Atheists at the University of Oregon
God’s Lady Problem: Breaking up with abusive supernatural beings
7pm in Lawrence Hall room 177
Facebook event

5/7/2011
Kamloops, BC
Imagine No Religion Conference
Kamloops Centre for Rational Thought & CFI Okanagan
Registration required
Also featuring PZ Myers & Mr. Deity!
5/21/2011
Oakland, CA
American Atheists Rapture Regional Atheist Meet
Registration required
Also featuring Greta Christina, Mr. Deity, Matt Dillahunty & Rebecca Watson!

I’m not going to lie… the last one is a win-win situation. Most likely the rapture won’t happen, and we get to go neener neener at the people who predict the end of the world. But on the minuscule chance that we do get left behind, at least I’m stuck there with a bunch of awesome people. You know the party will be great!

And then I get to frantically finish up the quarter and have a relaxing, atheist-conference free June. I love doing this, but it’s hard juggling it with grad school. To celebrate, I’m seeing Tim Minchin…twice. Wooooooo!

Now, to figure out how I’m getting to Eugene since I’m currently still sans-car keys. This may be interesting.

EDIT: OMG OMG I FOUND MY SPARE CAR KEY! IT WAS…in my car. WTF. I literally screamed “WHY WOULD I PUT YOU THERE?!?!?!” when I found it in the valet key compartment. The locksmith is my new favorite person for unlocking my car for free. Plus he was quick to unlock my apartment on Saturday. Seattle people, I highly recommend Ballard Lock & Key.