Happy Easter!

Easter and the ‘Passion of Jesus’ is one of those things that makes way less sense the more you think about it. I remember being profoundly affected by the passion story as a child – a man making the ultimate sacrifice for the redemption of sins. It was a touching tale. Until I thought about it as an actual event, at which point it became a story about a street preacher getting tortured and killed by a brutal occupying force with the political support of a wealthy religious elite. Not exactly terribly inspiring or even unprecedented – sad, to be sure, but not particularly unique. And then there’s the whole “being a god” and “knowing he would return from the dead” thing that kind of takes the edge off the ‘sacrifice’ theme.

At any rate, maybe if they had showed this in Sunday school instead, I’d have had an easier time believing:

The payoff comes at around the 3-minute mark and is just non-stop hilarity right through to the end.

Like this article? Follow me on Twitter!

We did it!

Thanks to your signups, your retweets, your Facebooking, and your general awesomeness, the “Atheists, Agnostics, Skeptics, Freethinkers, Secular Humanists and the Non-Religious” Kiva group has hit 25,000 members! This means that our group will get $10,000 in loan matching from a big-money donor to Kiva, allowing us to do twice the amount of loaning to a partner of our choice. The team captains will make the decision about where the loans will go, but I’ll keep you updated.

That’s not all, though. Since I put out the call a week ago, more than 200 people signed up through my referral link. Because each sign-up gets a $25 gift loan for themselves and another $25 gift loan for me, we have raised $10,000 of our own in gift loans! Because they expire relatively quickly if unused, I have been loaning them almost as quickly as they’ve come in, meaning that in the past week we’ve been able to help fund projects in housing, education, transport, and a wide variety of personal and professional projects in places where they can do a lot of good.

Thanks to everyone who signed up and helped promote this campaign. We needed about 270 people when this first came to my attention, and for 200 (probably more, since a few people who were already Kiva donors joined the team) of that total to come from here is a major achievement. Those of you who are members already can help by giving your input on how the money should be loaned on the message boards, or (if you are able to) by donating once a partner is chosen.

Congratulations everyone!

Like this article? Follow me on Twitter!

Kiva update: only a few days remain!

Hey all,

You’ve definitely noticed me flogging the latest push to get people signed up to the “Atheists, Agnostics, Skeptics, Freethinkers, Secular Humanists and the Non-Religious” Kiva lending group. This group is the all-time #1 lender on Kiva, and is just shy of 25,000 members. I received an e-mail from Kiva.org saying that if we get to that 25,000 milestone by Sunday, March 31st, we will be given $10,000 in loan matching. $10,000 is a lot of money, especially given that many of these microloans are only for a few hundred dollars.

The response from you has been overwhelming. Since Friday, more than 90 of you have signed up through the link I provided, meaning that the Crommunist Manifesto Kiva account has been given $2350 in gift loans, matched by large-money donors. We’ve been able to fund 23 projects at the $100 level. Additionally, everyone who joins Kiva for the first time gets a $25 gift loan of their own, meaning that our actual contribution has been something like $5000.

We’re not done yet, though. As of writing, we are still 170 members short of that 25,000 milestone. I’m going to need your help to push us over the edge here. Here’s how you can pitch in:

  1. If you haven’t already, follow this link and sign up. It is free to join, and your first $25 loan is free, so even if you’re tapped out at the moment you will be able to participate.
  2. If you have Facebook, share this post on your wall, and ask your friends to share it.
  3. If you’re on Twitter, throw out a link to this post and ask people to re-tweet.
  4. If you have a blog, put up a post about the campaign (hell, you can even copy this one verbatim).
  5. If you’re not on social media, consider sending an e-mail to a couple of friends and ask them to join up.

It only takes a couple of seconds, it’s free, and you can make a big difference to the lives of the borrowers. Also, it will be a profound statement in support of the fact that you don’t need to believe in a god to do good things.

Please join in the campaign. It would be a real shame if we fell short of something this helpful and easily achievable.

Like this article? Follow me on Twitter!

New Required Reading: The Day I Taught Not to Rape

Part of my revulsion over the phrase “common sense” is because I am aware (acutely, in many cases) of the number of monstrous things that inform the background ideas that we don’t necessarily question. It is, for example, “common sense” that religion makes people more ethical. After all, if you’re aware that you’re being watched by a supernatural being and you don’t want to be punished with hell, if course you’re going to behave better! It’s just common sense! Of course, we know that the truth is quite  a bit more complicated than that.

White supremacy was (and continues to be, albeit in more palatable language) a “common sense” position. Homophobia is a “common sense” position. The Iraq war was started because of “common sense” reasoning about being greeted as liberators and a ridiculous abstraction of the world into “axes of evil”. “Common sense” is essentially shorthand for “I don’t want to think this through”. The problem, of course, is that we don’t see the world through a common set of axioms, and we don’t share a common set of life experiences. “Common sense” is how the majority justifies the continuation of the status quo.

In the wake of the Steubenville rape conviction, a number of people have been forced to contend with their “common sense” notion of the definition of rape and the concept of consent. Those who have derided those who point out our rape culture are, all of a sudden, realizing that their “common sense” approach does not comport with law or basic ethics. The following is a story of just such a realization: [Read more...]

Come too far to turn back now

When I was in Chicago, I was (deservedly) upbraided by a member of the audience for referring to the #IdleNoMore aboriginal sovereignty movement in the past tense. Of course this movement is still ongoing, just as it was before the advent of the hashtag and the dramatic public demonstrations that accompanied it. The latest federal budget, announcing that benefits for First Nations youth (but not youth in other places) would be tied specifically to a Workfare program (with an enforcement budget that is larger than the budget for actual benefits), suggests that despite the statements of intention to co-operate, the Harper government has no interest in treating Aboriginal Canadians as anything other than inconvenient wards of the state who are in need of instruction in fiscal discipline (yes, the ironies abound).

And so, the revolution will go on, and an opportunity to change the toxic paternalism of the nation of Canada to the people it has colonized has been squandered.

Yesterday marked another dramatic milestone: [Read more...]

Online dating in the uncanny valley

There’s a concept in animation and robotics called “the uncanny valley” – the point where simulated humans are so close to realistic but not quite that they are disturbing. The theory is that people will become more comfortable with simulated humans as they become more like living things, up until a point right before full similarity when the comfort level drops precipitously. Facial expressions that are ‘not quite right’, movements that are ‘unnatural’, other subtle clues that would make people uneasy*.

There is a less technological manifestation of this phenomenon, referred to commonly as Poe’s Law, where someone’s stated beliefs are so close to what it would look like if someone was mocking those beliefs that it becomes difficult (or, in some cases, impossible) to determine the intent of the speaker. This can be a useful trolling technique, or even a persuasive method of argumentation to demonstrate the absurdity of a position.

I poked around with online dating for a little while when I first moved to Vancouver, but had little luck and abandoned the experiment pretty quickly. Despite my own frustrations with the process, I have learned that there are far worse things out there than not getting messages from prospective dates.

You could, for example, get a message from this guy**: [Read more...]

Never a better time to join up with Kiva

Hey all,

Many of you will remember that, thanks to the traffic you’ve brought to this site, we’ve been able to fund a number of microloans through Kiva.org. Today I got an e-mail from Kiva, with an exciting announcement:

A lending team you’re a member of, “Atheists, Agnostics, Skeptics, Freethinkers, Secular Humanists and the Non-Religious” is super close to hitting a big milestone: 25,000 members. You’re less than 500 people away from hitting that goal, and we’d love to help you get there.

Kiva has $10,000 for matching loans of your team’s choice–but only if you can reach the goal of 25,000 team members by midnight on March 31st, 2013

The atheist group is the #1 largest loaner on the site, and is about to push over 25,000 members. $10,000 in loans is a LOT of opportunity to help people in the same way we’ve been able to through this site. If you’ve ever thought of participating in this program, there really is no better time than now to join up.

As a bonus, if you sign up through this link, I will receive a $25 gift loan, meaning that even more loans can be given. It’s a great opportunity, and costs you nothing more than you’re willing to loan. Please consider signing up and helping to move this project along.

Like this article? Follow me on Twitter!

Canadian House of Commons passes trans anti-discrimination bill

A rare bit of good news coming from the Canadian Parliament yesterday:

A bill that would make it illegal to discriminate against transgender Canadians was approved by the House of Commons on Wednesday. The Opposition private member’s legislation passed by a vote of 149-137, with the crucial support of 16 Conservatives, including four cabinet ministers. It was one of the first tests of the Conservative caucus’ resolve on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights in Canada at a time when Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird has been mounting a strong defence of such rights abroad.

The thing to remember in this story is that a majority of sitting members of Parliament are Republican North Party members, and all bills require nothing more than a simple majority to pass or fail. If the government had ‘whipped’ the bill – meaning that a strict party-line vote was required – it would have failed. To Stephen Harper’s credit, one of the few areas where he’s been consistent is in allowing his members to ‘vote their conscience’ on these kinds of bills. Of course his conscience led him to vote against granting legal protection to trans Canadians, but luckily enough of his members weren’t as amoral as the boss. [Read more...]

Reporting from the Ministry of Irony

One of my deepest not-at-all-guilty pleasures is irony. If I were a more supernaturally-inclined person, I would point to events like this as evidence that there must be a supreme being:

British Columbia’s largest oil spill response vessel got stuck on a sandbar en route to a federal news conference where Monday about strengthening Canada’s oil spill defences.

The shipping-industry-funded company in charge of the vessel confirmed it ran aground briefly on an uncharted sandbar off Sand Heads at the mouth of the Fraser River en route from its Esquimalt base to the Coal Harbour news conference. But it denied the ship had a “close quarters situation” with a B.C. ferry near Active Pass earlier Monday – as claimed by the Coast Guard’s marine communications union.

In a news release Wednesday, Canadian Auto Workers Local 2182 spokesman Allan Hughes said the vessel’s slow trip to the conference underscored how ill-prepared B.C. is for an oil spill.

It really does strain credulity to imagine that such a thing could happen by accident. If one were specifically trying to illustrate the real environmental dangers posed by shipping bitumen through environmentally sensitive areas, there could be no more perfect example than this. The only thing that could have possibly been ‘better’ is if the ship leaked some oil, but then you’re trading the deliciousness of the irony for the real possibility of ecological damage.

The poignancy of this accident is made all the better by the fact that there is a cross-border debate currently happening about the viability of shipping Tar Sands bitumen to the United States, and an international fight over whether we should send that same bitumen to China over the opposition of aboriginal groups, through whose territory proposed pipelines would have to run. The accident, while minor, vividly underscores the real (and, in my mind, unacceptable) risks of transporting bitumen from an area that is already an environmental disaster.

Of course, as always, such issues should be routed through the Undersecretary for Whimsy and Caprice:

Like this article? Follow me on Twitter!

He who fears God…

When I was in Catholic school, right before we had our Confirmation (the Catholic equivalent of a bar mitzvah), we had specific instruction in Catholic dogma and catechism. Unlike the horror stories that I’ve heard from some others, all of the Catholic schools I attended were fairly secular, save for the mandatory religion class and the prayers during the morning announcements after the national anthem. We didn’t, for example, get fire and brimstone during science class or disciplined by dour nuns. To my recollection, we didn’t even get much by way of instruction in the Catholic beliefs on sexuality. Of course, it was elementary school, so that was likely due to squeamishness over the topic rather than evidence of the enlightenment of the instructors.

In any case, we were taught about the seven “gifts of the Spirit“, which are distinct from the seven virtues, which are themselves a counterpoint to the seven deadly sins – please believe that Catholicism is well steeped in the same numerology that defines the quirkier aspects of Judaism. Wisdom, understanding, counsel, piety, counsel, knowledge, fortitude… sure. Even at thirteen these seemed pretty self-explanatory (even if they were plainly not evinced by those who claimed to be “strong in the Spirit”). But it was the seventh that gave me trouble…

Fear of the Lord.

My catechism teacher tried to convince me that this simply meant ‘awe’, and a recognition that Yahweh was much greater than we were. Fine, I said, but why not just use ‘awe’? Why ‘fear’? If Yahweh was benevolent and loved us and all that jazz, why would it be right to fear him? After various attempts to explain that ‘fear’ was a metaphor (the Catholic dodge for just about everything), I was simply told to ignore the ‘fear’ language as an anachronism. Of course, once I learned about Stockholm Syndrome in undergraduate psychology, the anachronism suddenly made a lot more sense.

Of course, since rejecting theist belief, I have come to understand ‘fear of God’ in an entirely different way:

A church billboard saying

Like this article? Follow me on Twitter!