Happy Blasphemy Day!

…or if you’re a frequent blasphemer like me, Happy Friday.

Today was the Religious Student Organization Fair, and the Secular Student Union had a booth. That alone is pretty blasphemous. But to crank it up, I wore my Imagine No Religion shirt. And we ended up sitting right across from the Jesus Fan Club.

But the day ended up being a bit anti-climactic. We were sharing a table with a Christian group that was super nice and we actually had a lot of intelligent, thought provoking conversations about our natural biases, the search for truth, freedom of speech, separation of church and state, and how silly people like the Jesus Fan Club are. We were BFFs by the end.

Jen and her new Christian friend

But the thing that’s really worth celebrating today? Department Beer Hour starts up again. Hurray!

lololol hate mail

Perfect timing after yesterday’s post:

The only person I know who uses the term sex positive sucks dick for money. Which I’m sure you’d want your daughter to do in spite of the risks. Or rather, you’d blame the pervading nature of our sex negative society for the consequences rather than the seedy act of selling oneself. Personally I find the term idiotic. Sex is like any other powerful thing, it can be used in both positive and negative ways. Fucking for pleasure=positive. Fucking your sisters’ boyfriend because you’re pissed at her=negative. It’s a serious act with consequences. Seriously, grow up you chowderhead. Oh, and atheists are nothing but the photographic negative of religious zealots. And most gender and race issues only serve the purpose of dividing people and distracting them from more important economic issues.

I figured I should share, instead of be greedy and keep the hilarity to myself.

“People are terrible.”

Rebecca Watson summarizes the daily harassment and stalking she’s been experiencing ever since the stupid “elevatorgate” kerfuffle broke. I don’t care how you feel about the original issue – this response is excessively vile and misogynist. And downright disappointing, since these are actual members of the atheist and skeptical community, not random trolls or bipolar substance abusing Montrealers or 12-year-olds with an internet connection. And this is the exactly the reason why we’re going to keep talking about stuff like this.

I sympathize. I’ve had my share of internet drama, though not to this extent. But even though I haven’t exploded the internet recently, I still get the occasional email about how I’m pathetic and stupid for supporting Rebecca, or how I need to get off my high horse because I haven’t been called a Nazi and that’s so much worse. Or how I’m “too ugly for sex.”

It’s easy to laugh them off when it’s a slow trickle of inane insults, but even the thickest skin takes a beating when they come in a flood – a flood that’s been constant for Rebecca for months. So like her, while I want to keep fighting the good fight, sometimes I need to take a break from the internet and play some video games, go to a bar with friends, or watch Game of Thrones while cuddling with a cute guy. My sanity can’t handle being a feminist warrior 24/7.

My run in with the Jesus Fan Club

Today was the activities fair for all of the student organizations at the University of Washington. I was helping out the Secular Student Union booth, which was smack dab in an ocean of religious groups. Despite the fair organizers saying no one should set up before 10am, a dozen religious groups came super early to snipe all of the best tables. Some great religious ethics, right there.

We lamented the fact that no atheist student was going to wander into the religious section, but we did get a good amount of signatures. I shamelessly ate the free food that the religious booths were handing out.

Religious rice crispy treats

As I was looking around, I spotted a table that I needed a photo of: The Jesus Fan Club. If that name wasn’t enough reason for a photo, their apocalyptic advertisement sure was.

Jesus Fan Club

I went over to get a good photo. Then I forgot I was wearing my “Atheist, Ask Away!” sticker, and the girl working the booth approached me.

Let’s play the “How many apologetics can we fit into one fifteen minute conversation?” Game.

Christian: Oh, so you’re an atheist?
Me: …Yep.
Christian: Why?
Me: I haven’t been given enough evidence that would convince me that god exists.
Christian: So if someone gave you evidence, would you change your mind?
Me: Sure!
Christian: Well then I should tell you about all of the signs that the end times are coming…
Me: …Look, I’ve talked with a LOT of Christians and I have a feeling you’re not going to tell me anything new, but if you want to, go ahead.

She then went on to explain how all of the natural disasters, famines, wars, and HIV were proof that God was punishing his children. And that these things had risen by 200% in the last ten years. I blinked and didn’t even bother to confront the random statistics she was pulling out of her ass.

Christian: And the Bible proves these things, and even explains a lot about science that the people of that time wouldn’t have known otherwise.
Me: Oh yeah? Like what science?
Christian: …Let me get back to you on that.


She then explained that these natural disasters happen because God loves us. She asked me if I had heard of the story of Noah (…who hasn’t?) and said that was the perfect example. If a parent saw their children doing something bad, they would punish them instead of letting them keep hurting themselves. So God has to punish us with stuff like earthquakes.

I’m pretty sure she had no idea who she was talking about when it concerns the supernatural and earthquakes.

Christian: And when you look at earthquakes, they’re correlated with areas that are full of sin. Like Haiti, it had a very high rate of HIV.
Me: Earthquakes are also correlated with fault lines.
Christian: Well, God doesn’t break his own laws. So he has to use what he already has in place. Like if he wanted to punish Seattle, we’re more predisposed to earthquakes over other natural disasters, so he’d probably use an earthquake.
Me: That’s very convenient that God uses the type of disaster that’s already inclined to happen there due to random chance.
Christian: God has to work within the own laws he created for the universe, because God created everything. He can’t just like, stop the sun in the sky or something.
Me: …Except that God did stop the sun in the sky so one of his prophet could perform genocide on a whole race of people.
Christian: *look of shock* You know that story?!
Me: Yes.
Christian: Did you used to be Christian?
Me: No, I’m just well-read about the Bible.
Christian: The part about God stopping the sun is just a parable. A lot of people interpret the Bible wrong by interpreting it too literally.
Me: How do you know your interpretation is right? I mean, what if the whole Bible is a parable? What if God is a parable for the general goodness of people, and the whole thing is a story to teach us ethics? How do you know which parts are actually true?
Christian: They’re obvious.

Not to me.

The conversation then devolved into Pascal’s Wager.

Christian: But what if you’re wrong?
Me: What if you’re wrong? What if any of the other of hundreds of religions are right?
Christian: Well, then it doesn’t matter.
Me: Exactly.

Ah, that was refreshing, though it seemed a little unfair. Random Christian Undergrad vs. Person Who Has Been Writing and Speaking About Atheism for Four Years. And as tempting at the Mormon booth with their sign on the Five Absolute Truths was, I decided I had enough.

The first rule of Jesus Fan Club is you don’t talk about Jesus Fan Club. The second rule is to only use stupid arguments people have already debunked a thousand times. (Joke blatantly co-opted from Crommunist).

Do this now, OkCupid

One of my favorite blogs is OkTrends (even if they haven’t updated since April, sadface). What’s better than combing dating site data for statistical trends an oddities? All of their articles are super interesting.

I was having lunch with some of my fellow graduate students, when the conversation turned geeky (as it tends to do). I mentioned how it would be great to have some sort of measure of sexual compatibility on OkCupid other than skimming through the various questions people have answered (which, don’t lie, is the first thing everyone does). Though the questions are very telling – just from reading other’s answers to the sex questions, I can tell if we’d be compatible or not. But there’s no good metric for it.

The solution to us was obvious to us: Principal Component Analysis.

“Principal component analysis (PCA) involves a mathematical procedure that transforms a number of (possibly) correlated variables into a (smaller) number of uncorrelated variables called principal components. The first principal component accounts for as much of the variability in the data as possible, and each succeeding component accounts for as much of the remaining variability as possible.”

You could do a PCA on people with all of their sex answers being their data. The magic of PCA (please don’t make me describe the math) would then decide what the proper variables are to measure. If I had to guess, kinkiness and experience would probably be the two main variables in someone’s sexual preferences. I would guess you’d get a chart looking something like this:

Chart of kinkiness vs. experience with clustered data points

With each dot representing a person, and people potentially forming clusters. You could look and see if you easily fall into the kinky cluster, or whatever. And PCA can have more than two variables, though that’s a little trickier to graph. I can imagine the 3rd being something like desire. Do you want lots of sex, or are you happy with not that much? That’s a major point of conflict in relationships, so it would be great to have that sorted out by the power of statistics.

Thinking this was pretty much the best idea ever, we emailed OkCupid, highlighting our accolades as computational geniuses and internet nerds. This was the response:

“Hi Jennifer – Thanks for writing.  We only share our data with third parties when they have a budget to license the data…


I think that “…” implies “You don’t have the money to do it yourself.”

So, fine, fine. But in the name of science, I want to see it done. Come on, OkCupid. You know you want to reach a new level of geekery in your statistical analysis. Make it so.

The perception of female graduate students

Guy in bar: So, what brought you to Seattle?
Me: I just started grad school
Guy: What are you studying?
Me: Genetics
Guy: Oh, I would have thought it would be more shallow-like
Me: … *eyes bug out*

While I think the details are irrelevant, I feel compelled to add that I wasn’t wearing anything that could be even remotely perceived as “shallow-like.” Jeans and a t-shirt, no makeup. Nope, I just had boobs.

Corralling the apathetic atheists

This afternoon the officers of the Secular Student Union at the University of Washington had a beginning of the quarter planning meeting. We discussed the sorts of events we wanted to plan for the fall quarter, but we had one issue.

Seattle is a little different from the rest of the country. It’s pretty godless already. And the atheists out here don’t tend to care about their atheism, because those who aren’t atheists are fairly benign and private about their religion.

Well, except the Mars Hill Church. We all rally together to sneer at them.

In the Midwest, atheists swarm to atheist meetings because it’s the only bit of sanity they get. It’s the only reprieve from the constant barrage of Christianity. It’s possibly the only chance you have to meet another atheist. Issues of separation of church and state are readily apparent when they’re being violated in your home town.

But in Seattle, most people are apathetic about these things. They’re not confronted with them on a daily basis – it’s easy to giggle at the silliness of religion when you think it’s relegated to other parts of the country and the world. So our club has been tiny recently.

The thing is, we disagree on how to get people interested in our club. Some officers think we need to focus on social events and not be aggressive about religion. But while social events are great, I don’t think it works as a draw in apathetic areas. In very religious areas, social events are your only chance of meeting other atheists and feeling comfortable about speaking your mind. But here, there’s no problem in meeting another godless person. Just walk down the street and say hello.

Maybe this is just the firebrand in me speaking, but I think we need to be more controversial. Not necessarily crazy – but we need to get out there and make it clear that religious privilege is an issue people should care about. That abstinence only education is religiously motivated and has been proven not to work. That the Catholic Church’s stance on condom usage in Africa has killed many people. That we have Christian Dominionists who want to be President. That we have the Discovery Institute itself sitting downtown, spewing its creationist garbage. Not everyone on campus is totally apathetic – they’ve just never been exposed to the reasons why many of us believe religion is a problem.

We’ll see how it pans out. School starts this week, and we’re thinking about letting people trade their souls for a cookie during the activities fair. If cookies don’t attract students, I don’t know what will.

Oh Seattle

This actually happened a couple of weeks ago when I was heading to PAX, but I only randomly remembered it now.

I hopped on the bus to head downtown, still a bit groggy. The bus was fairly empty. I was about to choose one empty row, but realized someone had left a Bible sitting there…so I sat in the row behind it.

I rode the bus for about 15 minutes until I got to the stop where a couple of my friends were joining me. During that time period, at least six people were about to sit in that row, saw the Bible, turned back, and kept walking to another spot on the bus. But by the time my friends got there, the bus was pretty full. One sat next to me, and the other looked dejectedly at the Bible before sitting next to it.

The woman sitting near us laughed, and quipped about how only in Seattle would people avoid a Bible so much.

I had assumed someone left the Bible there as a form of evangelizing. But my friend flipped through it, and it was full of notes and business cards and phone numbers and flyers. Looks like it was nothing more than an organizational tool someone had left behind.

Is religion a dating deal breaker?

People have all sorts of deal breakers when it comes to the people they date, and they tend to be highly subjective. Some people have no interests in nerds (an idea which has caused more than one internet kerfuffle), while I consider nerdiness a requirement. I don’t give a damn what type of music you listen to, but that can be important to someone who loves the music scene. Some people find complementary political ideas are necessary, and others thing lively debate spices up a relationship.

Bigotry is my number one deal breaker. Homophobic? Going to crack jokes about me getting in the kitchen? Think random racist comments are funny? Yeah, not attractive in any way.

My number two deal breaker? Religion.

When I’ve said that before, some people say it’s hypocritical – that discriminating against a potential romantic interest based on religion is itself a form of bigotry. But no one would consider discriminating against meat eaters or Republicans a type of bigotry. And really, religion is no different, despite the way many people in society want to treat it. It’s an idea and philosophy, and one that makes me want to bash my head in. It doesn’t exactly put me in the mood.

And I know from experience. My dating record has gone something like:

Apathetic Agnostic
Wiccan (who later turned atheist, I think because of me)
Hard core Rush Limbaugh loving Lutheran (more on that anomaly in a bit)

And if I had to put money on it, the next boyfriend will probably be an atheist too. Why? Because I’m done with dating religious people. My relationship with the Lutheran, while lasting 9 months, was one of my most stressful and unhappy relationships precisely because of the religion issue. Like most high school relationships, we only superficially got along – we were both nerds with similar tastes in movies. But I knew he didn’t agree with my religious views – that it made him feel guilty and even embarrassed for dating me – and in return it made me feel like crap. And when religion came up, we’d get in the stupidest, most unproductive fights.

And that was back when I considered myself agnostic! Now that I’m a full fledged atheist activist, I don’t know how it could work. Even if they loved the debate and their kink was being constantly told how wrong they are…no thanks. I deal enough with debunking religious ridiculousness as is – I don’t want to spend my relaxing time doing that too.

I’ve had people quip that I’m narrowing my dating pool. What if Mr. Perfect happened to be religious? I would never know if I didn’t try!

Well, I don’t believe in Mr. Perfect, so scratch that argument. And if you want to know why, ask Tim Minchin:

How about you? I know not all of you are as rabid atheists as I am. Is religion a deal breaker?

A contribution to the Desperation Theory of Bisexuality

Male deep-sea squid so rarely have another squid swim by, it’s too much of a risk to miss a female. Especially since it’s hard to tell male and female squid apart, especially when you’re at the bottom of the ocean. So they fling their little sperm packets out indiscriminately, sometimes hitting other male squid.

This reads like porno specifically tailored for PZ:

The way the squid mate is something else. Little is known about the details but it seems that the male ejaculates a packet of sperm at the mating partner, and the packet turns inside out, essentially shooting the sperm contained in a membrane into the flesh of the partner, where they stay embedded until the female (if the shooter has been lucky) is ready to fertilize its eggs. If males are the recipient of these rocket sperm, they are just stuck with them. It is the kind of mating that would make a good video game.


Obviously this is proof that male bisexuals are really just desperate and indiscriminately looking for sex. Duh.

Wait, what’s that?

[Dr. Hoving] fended off that notion, reiterating that the squid has no discernible sexual orientation, and that a tentacled invertebrate that shoots sperm into its mate’s flesh really has nothing to do with human behavior.

Oh, right.

Panic that eating calamari makes you gay in 3…2…1…