Apr 18 2014

Three Cultures (Easter?)

Student 1—”This weekend is Easter! I’ll be with my family, celebrating, together… That’s what Easter is for!”

Student 2—”in [her culture], we celebrate all the holidays! Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, and some you’ve never heard of! Embrace all the belief systems, and celebrate all the holidays!”

Student 3—“in [his culture], there are no holidays—if you want to give a gift to someone, why wait? If you want to tell someone you care, why wait? If you want to recognize a special occasion, what does a calendar have to do with it? Every day is special! Every day is precious! Why would you limit yourself to a handful of days?”

I love having students of multiple cultures.

Apr 18 2014

“Coming Out Atheist”

So Greta Christina’s new book is out now. As was expected, it is excellent. When she offered a copy for me to review, my only question was “what sort of verse form do you want the review in?” To my horror, she said she would love a Sestina. A Villanelle would be acceptable, but her first choice would be a Sestina.

I have a confession. I hate sestinas (I was only capitalizing them earlier to draw attention to the word–I’ll stop now; I know how it annoys some people). To me, sestinas represent effort for the sake of effort. They don’t rhyme, but they follow an annoying set of constraints. I know, I should be (and am) a fan of constrained writing, but I just don’t like the sestina form.

But enough about that. This post isn’t about my neuroses, it’s about Greta Christina’s book.

This verse serves as Greta Christina’s sestina–
It’s not a sestina at all, you can tell
I cannot produce what’s requested; I’m bested–
Instead, she’ll be getting her own sepielle
Some people need help leaving closets, she posits;
She’s written a “Coming Out Atheist” book
There’s lots of advice, well worth heeding–I’m reading,
And strongly advise you to all take a look

Some godless are “out” very loudly and proudly,
Some stay in the closet for decades or more–
The former will find Greta’s writing exciting;
The latter, of course, are the folks that it’s for
Explaining the “atheist” stigma’s enigmas,
She’s firmly in favor of using the word;
Embracing the fact that you’re godless, facade-less,
Ensuring your meaning is properly heard

Your own coming-out can help others–your brothers
And sisters and more, who are trapped in the dark
They’re waiting on you to inspire their fire;
There’s fuel, and there’s air–all it wants is your spark
If faith’s not your thing, then replace it! Let’s face it,
It’s your life to live, and you only get one!
With Greta’s new book as your how-to, time now, to
Step out of the closet, and into the sun!

Apr 17 2014

Liberated Atheist

… That’s the name of the new release, a 15-minute instrumental composition in three contiguous parts. Put it on in the background…

It showed up in my aggregator, via Decoder Magazine; I’m not at all certain how I feel about it. It takes me back, really, to my high school years in the late 70′s, when a friend of mine worked at a local radio station, and we’d get together after the station went off the air at midnight, looping music together and creating odd sonic concoctions. Mind you, what we created wasn’t necessarily good

I don’t think it’s my sort of thing. Is it yours?

Apr 16 2014

Ok, That’s A First

Twice today, students asked questions that I had previously examined on this blog, such that my immediate thought was “oh, I’ll just recite this verse”. Which, of course, I did not. I gave a nice, thorough, completely prose response.

I need to get more people reciting my verses as answers to classroom questions, so that I can do so without raising suspicion.

In the future, anapestic tetrameter will replace powerpoint as the go-to presentation format.

Apr 13 2014

Containing Atheism, In Saudi Arabia

There’s a piece decrying atheists—
“Contain them!” it opines—
But it’s quite a different story
If you read between the lines…

There’s a very strange article in the Saudi Gazette. On the face of it, atheism is a problem which must be contained:

A number of academics and experts have underlined the need for serious efforts to contain atheism in the Kingdom. Claiming that there is a link between the spread of atheism and extreme religious views, the experts said a moderate image of Islam must be promoted and any doubts youths may have about religion must be addressed in a convincing manner, Al-Madinah Arabic daily reported.

Yes, there is a connection between atheism and extreme religious views, therefore we must do our best to limit… atheism.

Now, I’d have thought extreme religion leads to atheism, but of course I’d be wrong:

Ghazi Al-Maghlouth, professor of Islamic culture at Al-Ahsa University’s Faculty of Shariah, said atheism is not at all linked with religious discourse. It is purely related to the personality of individuals who have some confusion about certain religious doctrines, in addition to having a skeptical mind. They always search for mysteries behind anything and everything and ask questions for which there may not be any clear-cut answers,” he said.

Yes. They have some confusion over questions for which there may not be any clear-cut answers. THis sounds less like “confusion” and more like “understanding”.

According to Al-Maghlouth, even in China, there are three major religions — Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism, in addition to atheism. He said that atheism is present in every society in varying degrees. Al-Maghlouth specially referred to the controversial book by the Egyptian philosopher Abdul Rahman Badawi, titled “A history of atheism in Islam.”

In the book, Badawi explains how several Muslim philosopher-scientists and students of the medieval period questioned and often refuted some basic Islamic tenets and eventually became atheists.

So… wait. This article is saying this is a bad thing? That we must prevent people from refuting basic (and clearly refutable) Islamic tenets?

Al-Maghlouth said the media played a great role in promoting atheism in the modern world. “Before the high-tech media revolution, there were atheist tendencies but they did not receive any significant attention. Now, even small atheist elements are receiving wide publicity,” he said while adding that people who are engaged in their own reading and writing are more prone to atheism.

Do you sense the trend I do? Insult atheists by comparing them to philosopher-scientists, people engaged in their own reading and writing, skeptical thinkers regarding questions which have no clear-cut answers?

Oh, I’m not saying the whole article leans that direction. Here’s the closing:

“The fundamental principles of our religion are sublime and candid and they can be easily understood by every man and woman regardless of age. The basic thing is that scholars and preachers have to impart them to the younger generation in a convincing way, without creating confusion and skepticism,” he said.

But for an article nominally against atheism, this is more favorable treatment than we can expect. What’s next, an article–in Saudi Arabia–openly praising atheism?

Yeah, no, I won’t hold my breath.

Apr 12 2014

God Goes To Court In New York

A little bit short
On His credit report?
No, you don’t want to mess with divinity—
Y’see, God is the sort
Who will take you to court
If you say He can’t buy His Infiniti.

A silly little story on NPR:

As the saying goes, “In God We Trust, all others pay cash.”

But in the case of Russian immigrant and businessman God Gazarov, cash may be the only option.

That’s because, according to The New York Post, credit reporting agency Equifax has refused to acknowledge that he has any financial history whatsoever, despite having high scores with two other major credit agencies.

He was named after his grandfather, apparently, and not his heavenly father. Equifax suggested changing his name to fix the problem. God’s lawyers have other suggestions.

Oh, and it really was an Infiniti he was trying to buy. I mean, what else would God drive?

Apr 11 2014

The Second Song

My iTunes is set on “shuffle”
I like it much better this way
I’ll listen to one, cos I want to,
But I don’t know the next that will play

I sometimes engage in obsessing–
A song will get stuck in my head–
And I think I will know what comes after,
And a different song plays, instead

And it shakes up the way that I’m thinking
It’s a virtual kick in the butt
And I’m off in a brand new direction
When I might have been stuck in a rut.

So I give it my recommendation
As a way you can shake up your brain
Put your musical whatsit on “shuffle”
And enjoy the perspective you gain!

So, yeah, I wanted to hear a particular song. This one, actually. But I had no idea what would come up next, and what did… just turned my evening right-side-up. (It happened to be a Tom Waits song, but with my music collection, that would happen to be the best odds.)

And the last time I listened to the former song… (this was recently, or I likely would not have remembered), it was followed by something completely different. As with the time before that. Were it not for my obsessive listening to the first song over the past few days, I don’t think I’d have noticed.

But there are times when the second song comes on (or the third, or fourth, so long as you keep listening) and it just makes you laugh. Or cry. Or dance. Or whatever it is that that song does, that nothing else in the world can quite do the same way.

Choose excellent music, and put your music-thingamajiggers on “shuffle”. Too much of life is predictable anyway.

So…ever have a song come on unexpectedly and just rock your world?

Apr 11 2014

Problem’s, Problem’s, Problem’s…

I was reading through some papers
(It was really quite a stack)
Cos I’ve had them for a week, now,
And the students want them back

But then… a stray apostrophe
Was seared into my soul,
Unleashing horde’s of demon’s,
Till I fully lost control

It took a bit of doing
But I talked myself back down
Read the news at [site redacted]
For the latest from my town

But then… that stray apostrophe,
A simple, plain, mistake
So many good example’s,
Who could know that I would break?

In the comic’s, in the headline’s
In the manual’s for my car!
On the price tag’s, in my vision’s
If I’m looking–there they are!

Those fucking stray apostrophe’s!
Intentional, I know!
They wan’t to see me broken,
And they know the way to go.

Apr 09 2014

Revisionist History in “God’s Not Dead”

So… I was looking at something else entirely, when this popped up as something I might want to read. That’s right, an article at the Christian Post… so you know it has to be true. There are commandments (well, one) against bearing false witness, you know.

Anyway… seems part of “God’s Not Dead” (the movie) was inspired by true events. The asian dude in the movie who found Jesus… yup. Totes real.

It was during his time in college that Wang, then an atheist, built a relationship with a professor who began asking him questions about God and showing him evidence for the existence of a deity.

“A Harvard professor, a professor of pediatrics, and a believer, saw the status of mind that I was in, confused and in crisis,” Wang told The Christian Post in an email.

“He knew that because of his medical expertise, I would listen to him out of my respect of his medical knowledge. So he saw an opportunity, to guide and influence me, to broaden my understanding of life, to a broader prospective by introducing faith in my life which could help answer the questions that I had and for which I could not find answer in science.”

Note–his words, not mine. I am not bending this to say that a college professor saw a student in crisis of mind and decided to proselytize…I am merely reporting that this is what happened. Note: confused and distraught student, Christian professor.

Wang recalled a conversation where his professor asked him how he could believe that a car could somehow been created in the absence of a creator but yet assume that a brain had come about randomly.

“Right there and then, he opened a door, in my life, and I found God, found Christianity, that could provide the answers to the questions that I was asking.

Again, I hasten to say, these are not my words. It is Wang who is either mis-remembering, or accurately remembering incompetent faculty.

You don’t need my interpretation; you can read his story yourself.The story of a lost student who was pressured by a pushy faculty member… Pretty much the story of “God’s Not Dead”, right? Wait. lemme quote again:

Wang also said while Kwo, “the Chinese student character,” does portray part of his life story, the doctor also sees much of himself in the main character Wheaton.

“Some of the arguments that I made in the original book God’s Not Dead, with regard to the evidence of existence of God, was put into Joshua’s mouth, in his brilliant presentation of the evidence of existence of God. So, in essence, sort of half of me, in the original book, has gone into this main character Josh,” he explained.

Real life: insecure student from China is preached at by Christian prof.
Movie: Atheist prof challenges Christian student, Chick track ensues.

It’s based on a true story! Well… a story, anyway.

Apr 08 2014

In Defense Of The “Village Atheist”

The thing about a village is,
There’s nowhere you can hide
Cos everyone knows everyone
(A point of village pride)

And should you act distinctively,
That act becomes your role
A label thrust upon you—
Wholly out of your control

If your label as an “other”
Is too difficult a test,
You will monitor your actions
So you blend in with the rest.

It’s how villages keep order
And maintain the status quo
You can risk a village label
Or be safe, and just lie low

Thus we find the Village Idiot
(With luck, there’s only one)
And the nasty Village Atheist
Who argues just for fun

But for groups in the majority
Whose thoughts and acts are shared
There’s no “other” role required
So that label they are spared

It’s a simple sort of governance,
Enforcing right and wrong
The “Village X” may live here,
But they really don’t belong.

So my aggregator threw an article my way, “Why more atheists need to speak out against village atheism” (written, I probably don’t need to tell you, not by an atheist but by a Christian apologist just trying to be helpful):

Over the last five years that I have been blogging I have noted the extensive presence of village atheism within the infidel blogosphere. While the blogosphere also has its share of “village Christians”, what is particularly ironic about the proliferation of village atheism is the fact that the online atheist/skeptic community persistently tries to brand itself as being especially rational, critical, and objective. And yet, the widespread and vocal opinions of the village atheists directly contradicts this lofty branding.

His concern is noted. He goes on to describe “village atheists” in great detail, and mentions a second time that there is also such a thing as the “village christian”, but does not describe or give examples.

Thing is, there really isn’t a “village christian”, not in this culture, not meaningfully. I did a search for “the village atheist”, “the village idiot”, and “the village christian”, and in the words of Sesame Street, one of these things is not like the others. You can go for pages and pages of “the village christian school”, or “the village christian daycare” or find the phrase “…the village. Christian…” as the juxtaposition of two sentences in a story. I have not found it used in the same sense as “the village idiot” or “the village atheist” yet.

And that’s because “the village X” is a designated minority role. It’s a way of othering, of dismissing with a label, of designating someone to be both part of the village and apart from the village.

We have village atheists because we have people who are eager to speak up, but not terribly well versed in the topic they are speaking of. We have a great many more Christians who are eager to speak up, but not terribly well versed in the topic they are speaking on (we don’t have to look far). These are not “village Christians”, though–they are wholeheartedly welcomed members of the community. They are the village. It is not the fact that someone doesn’t have all the facts that makes them the “village atheist”; it is the fact that they are the atheist.

Interestingly (well, to me, at least), I did not run across any suggestion that “the village atheist” was meant to evoke comparisons to “the village idiot”. I really expected that the link was intentional and meant to disparage, but it appears that the terms are independent (I would, of course, defer to someone who can show otherwise, but I found nothing), both naturally occurring instances of an in-group labeling an out-group.

Lastly, to my mind the finest treatment of the village idiot ever (but see comment #4 below for a well-argued alternate choice)… though it never actually uses the phrase. The Beatles, with “The Fool On The Hill”:

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