Satanist, Atheist; Tomayto, Tomahto

The folks at Fox News have been hatin’ on Satan;
The thought of him sickens their good Christian hearts
A statue? in public? And Gretchen was retchin’,
While all of her guests played their usual parts:
“That statue’s offensive! It’s hateful! A state full
Of Christians would never have voted it in!
Majority rules—you don’t like it? Then hike it
To some other state that might tolerate sin!”

Conservative pundits are trying, by lying,
To claim the majority writes all the laws
Their cry “it’s Commandments we follow!” rings hollow:
They always forget the establishment clause
Not wanting to, yet, let them all in, they’re stallin’—
They’ll wait, while this case makes its way through the courts
In the meantime, the Decalogue only, so lonely,
Cries out to be joined by some goat-headed sorts.

Yeah, well, ok, I’m not really happy with this verse, so I’ll post it quick before I just throw it away. It started out as a comment on Gretchen Carlson’s innocent gaffe, then took a detour into the shouting match her guests launched (have you ever noticed how few guests actually answer the questions they’ve been asked? They answer completely different questions instead, loudly and independently of whether anyone else is talking), then into a vague commentary on the whole satanic statue thing. So it needs a good editing… which would kill the meter and rhyme. What ya gonna do?

There is much fodder for hair-pulling at that link, though. Misrepresentation of the Satanists who are proposing to donate the monument (satanists, rather, are the stuff of pulp novels, B movies, and Chick Tracts), “majority rules” being demanded by the Jewish talking-head (who asks “what did goats ever do? I don’t know why they are having to suffer.”… forgetting that his own religion gave us the “scapegoat”), a member of a smaller minority than atheists; Gretchen’s “the rabbi has a good point” after the rabbi’s alleged point disappeared in a haze of shouting…

Simple

There is beauty in simplicity
When simple things are true;
But solving complex mysteries—
There’s beauty in that, too

There are simple things, and complex things,
And mysteries and more…
Sure, sometimes you have favorites,
But it isn’t either/or

Ok, so I saw this commercial, and it really bothered me:

Do you want to hear about the chemical composition of the sun? Or simply feel it on your face? Do you want to talk about all the muscles it takes for two hands to connect? Or just enjoy that they can? Do you want to debate why an apple a day keeps the doctor away? Or just take a bite? Do you want to talk about what it takes to make a miracle happen? Or just look at one?

To have a kid’s voice say these lines is, to my ears, just horrible! Kids want to know the chemical composition of the sun, and are fascinated by how muscles, sinews, bones and skin combine to make hands work. The ad writers have the kid certain that apples work, and that babies are “miracles”. Kids are naturally curious–why on earth would you base a “simplify” commercial around someone who probably makes Rube Goldberg machines out of kitchen appliances, clothes hangers, and tape. Kids see the beauty in complexity–in stuff that takes a lot of work to understand. That’s one of the best things about kids.

I can see why a healthcare plan might want to simplify. But damn, this commercial just grates at me whenever I see it.

Oprah Says Major Religions All Wrong

So Oprah says the atheist is really a believer
Cos she views the world with wonder and with awe
You see, wonder, awe, and mystery are really what God is
Thanks to Oprah, we can see religion’s flaw!

Oprah’s telling us the Christians have a silly view of God
So do Muslims, so do Hindus, so do Jews—
They are far, far, too specific, and the details are all wrong
Big mistakes that even Oprah can’t excuse!

There’s no “wonder, awe, and mystery” in mainstream Christian faith
There is certainty—adherence to a creed!
There are pastors, priests, and reverends who’ll explain it all for you
And a bible that’s the only book you need!

It’s the opposite of mystery—the answers all are there!
So it’s obvious—and Oprah gets the nod—
That religions, with their dogmas and their answers and their books
All have overlooked what Oprah says is God.

So, yeah, you’ve probably already heard, Oprah had a really tough time accepting that Diana Nyad is an atheist. The story is everywhere now, but everyone is missing the big picture. You see, in her eagerness to fold everyone into the believer camp, Oprah has redefined “God” in a manner that is incompatible with the majority of modern religious believers.

The thing is, today’s religions are not about wonder, awe, and mystery, they are about providing simple answers to the things that lead to wonder, awe, and mystery. How did we get here? Magic. (I’m paraphrasing Genesis here.) Why do bad things happen to good people? They don’t, not really, when you look at the big picture, so quit complaining and get back to work. What happens when we die? You get to see all your friends again, and your pets, and your family, and all the people you don’t like will be in another place getting what they deserve.

Awe, Wonder, and Mystery (don’t they deserve the caps?) are wonderful things, but a god that has specific dietary restrictions isn’t mysterious. No god ever described, when compared to the Hubble photos, or to our modern understanding of the depths of time in our cosmic and biological histories, or to our emerging understanding of the development of individuals from strands of protein, no god ever described deserves the word “awe”. Gods are simply too small. Gods are answers before we had answers, before we knew the size of the questions.

Wonder, Awe, and Mystery are far more worthy of our time than any god has ever been. And I, for one, thank Oprah for pointing out the petty inadequacies that currently make up so much of religious belief.

Gee, Oprah, I don’t call you a believer–you sound almost like a good atheist.

The Unintentionally Worst Thing Heard About Grand Theft Auto V

So I was listening to NPR.

On NHPR’s “Word of Mouth”, a discussion of Grand Theft Auto… let’s see… it was The Bankable Legacy Of Grand Theft Auto; audio is available at the link. There was discussion of the economics, of the controversy, of misrepresentation of an adult game as a bad children’s game… honestly, I was mostly shopping, so I did not hear all of the program. I did hear one comment though, that went unremarked on the program, and I wanted to remark on it. At around the 8-minute mark, Jamin Warren, of Killscreen, a “video-game arts and culture company”, responds to the host’s (the excellent Virginia Prescott, I think) comment that one can, if she remembers correctly get points in this game for beating up prostitutes. His immediate response (my apologies if I transcribed it poorly–I think I got it, though):

(8:04) I think the important thing that is important to remember is that there are many things you can do in Grand Theft Auto; some of them, I think, are distasteful—well, I guess, a lot of them are at some level distasteful—but I don’t necessarily think that the violence in Grand Theft Auto against women–obviously it’s problematic at very, like at a very base level, but I think if you were to look at it in the landscape of broader media, it wouldn’t necessarily be anomalous.

And yes, (as I understand it) you can, but are not required to, beat prostitutes in GTA V. I played an earlier version of the game, and never once treated it as anything but a driving simulator with some really bizarre racetracks. It was well designed without the added violence against women; my personal tastes would have it with playable female lead characters, and none of the violence, but my personal version would sell, like, twelve copies in total.

But that’s not the important thing. I suspect you caught the important thing, though. “It wouldn’t necessarily be anomalous.” The distasteful violence against women… yes, it’s there, but it’s everywhere, so that’s ok.

No, that’s not ok. That’s terribly depressing. When the poster child for symbolic violence against women can simply point to “the landscape of broader media” and say “we’re just following your example”, this is not a point in favor of the game, or of the broader media, or of much of anything.

Let’s beat up some women;
Let’s beat up some whores;
Let’s steal us some autos
And rob us some stores
Let’s tell everybody
It’s only a game…
Cos the rest of the media
Looks just the same.

Shocking!!!

The billboard, up just down the block
Has left us in a state of shock:
Its “shocking” message? Here’s the gist:
Atheists… exist.

Not much of a story here–the fun part is behind the scenes. An Austin TV station’s website has their story of one of the local atheist billboards. It’s a nice enough story–the representative atheist is well-spoken, the representative Christian is concerned…

But, for those of you who clicked through, did you notice the URL? The article title, now, is “Atheist Community Building Support with Billboards”… the URL, though, includes the phrase “atheist-community-building-support-shocking-billboards”. That’s right, “shocking”.

Yup, they bear the radical message “Don’t believe in God? You are not alone.”

Shocking.

Hey Rachel, Let’s Make A Deal

See, it’s not the proper mainstream
It’s the loonies at the fringe;
I can listen to the former
But the latter make me cringe
As it’s painful to the both of us,
A wound we ought to heal,
I’m proposing a solution—
Yes, I want to make a deal.

Professors of biology
Who go to such extremes
That they see religious practice
As evolving social memes
We will gladly just ignore them
When they say a bit too much
If you’ll just ignore Pat Robertson
When he goes off a touch

And Ph. D. philosophers,
And physicists, and more;
Psychologists, neurologists,
And others by the score
We’ll listen to their ranting
And we’ll try to stifle moans
If you’ll ignore their counterparts—
For instance, Terry Jones.

Extremists do not speak for all—
You understand, I hope—
It’s such a silly strawman
When you criticize the pope!
Let’s peel apart the radicals;
Dismiss them, one by one,
And look for truth in what remains
When all the culling’s done

Rachel Held Evans wants to make a deal. She noticed Dawkins’s comments about “mild pedophilia”, and feels our pain.

As tempting as it is to classify Dawkins’ views as representative of all atheists, I can’t bring myself to do it.

I can’t bring myself to do it because I know just how frustrating and unfair it is when atheists point to the most extreme, vitriolic voices within Christianity and proclaim that they are representative of the whole.

So, atheists, I say we make a deal: How about we Christians agree not to throw this latest Richard Dawkins thing in your face and you atheists agree not to throw the next Pat Robertson thing in ours?

Now, while you may have noticed multiple posts here at FTB and elsewhere calling out Dawkins for his words, he is still seen as one of our leaders (especially by those trying to equate atheism with religion). And don’t think that Christians don’t criticize Pat Robertson on occasion, like when he blames natural disasters on sin, or when he’s too liberal in his political endorsements. So, yeah, the two are roughly equivalents–you see politicians courting Dawkins’s king-making endorsement all the time, and retirees sending him all their money in return for his good word greasing their way into the afterlife, and there’s Dawkins’s television network, too. (I can’t find a comparison of book sales numbers–if anyone has that information, I’d love to see it.)

Pat Robertson does not represent all Christians. But the one-time Most Dangerous Man In America is not, in any way, the opposite number to Dawkins. I can see why agreeing to dismiss both of them would be a tempting offer… for Christians.

But what if we resist the urge to use the latest celebrity gaffe as an excuse to paint one another with broad brushes?

What if, instead of engaging the ideas of the most extreme and irrational Christians and atheists, we engaged the ideas of the most reasonable, the most charitable, the most respectful and respected?

My goodness, if you want extreme and irrational atheists, don’t use Dawkins as your example. He says stupid things on occasion, but believe me, we have some who seemed to have carved out a comfortable niche wholly immersed in stupidity. But again, I can see why you would wish to call this an even trade.

So, yes, Richard Dawkins is an atheist. But so is ethicist and humanitarian Peter Singer. So are authors Greg Epstein and Susan Jacoby. So is my friend and fellow blogger Hemant Mehta. So is Sir Ian McKellen.

Yes, Pat Robertson is a Christian. But so is Nelson Mandela. So is acclaimed geneticist Francis Collins. So is Nobel Peace Prize winner Leymah Gbowee. So is Barack Obama. So is Stephen Colbert.

Let’s take Collins. Yes, he’s a nice guy. But he’s still wrong. And nice atheists also have dumb ideas.

I think it was the eminent philosopher Batman who said (stole) “it’s not who I am underneath, but what I do that defines me”. When someone does or says something that is worth criticizing, then it doesn’t matter if it is Robertson, Dawkins, or Cuttlefish (yes, I put them in order of number of things worth criticizing); criticize.

As for getting rid of “extremists” on both ends, and looking in the middle… “When two opposite points of view are expressed with equal intensity, the truth does not necessarily lie exactly half way between. It is possible for one side simply to be wrong.

But then, that was said by an extremist.

Respect vs Seduction

So, Ophelia writes of an embarrassingly horrible bit of “advice” from askmen.com, which I really had a hard time believing was not satire–honestly, I kept scrolling to the bottom of the page, expecting then to write a deconstruction, a “can you believe anyone would suggest this?” addendum to the column. It was as if the whole thing was written by the “dear Penthouse” brain trust.

It got me thinking… What would it look like, to promote an actual healthy approach to relationships, instead of a predatory seduction model?

My attempt is not perfect–but it can’t be all things at once. First, feel free to switch around pronouns at will, cos as is it’s very hetero (cos I was responding to the situation pointed out by Ophelia, above). It still reads like sex is the ultimate goal, but I did want it to be sex-positive. Which kind of excludes another group… so, yeah, in three stanzas, I can’t even please me, let alone everybody else.

But y’know? I think I did better in three stanzas than askmen did in 10 pages.

He took her to a movie, and he took her for a drink
He liked what he was seeing, but it isn’t what you think
Insuring she was sober, he invited her to bed
She said she’d rather wait a bit… they watched TV instead.

She liked the way he treated her; she liked the way he looked
She liked his taste in music, and she loved the food he cooked
She wanted to be closer, and she told him her desire
He’d rather take it slowly, so they cuddled by the fire

He loves her sense of humor, and she loves the jokes he tells
She loves the way he holds her, and he loves the way she smells
It’s really not mysterious; it’s really not complex
It’s warmth, respect, and friendship… Oh, and now, it’s tons of sex.

Fox News’s “The Five” Debate (ha!) The Pledge Lawsuit

I know, in this country, we’re free to praise God
And we’re free to ignore those who don’t
We’d be free to spread some of this freedom around
But we’re also free not to… and won’t.
Some people might claim that we’re doing it wrong—
Why they’d say that, I cannot conceive—
Those people have freedom, like everyone else;
I suggest that they feel free to leave.

Via Opposing Views, who note Former Bush Spokesperson Dana Perino is literally telling atheists to leave the country, a case study of privilege at work. Take a look at the segment (I can’t embed it or I would); listen to the same old arguments (including “‘in god we trust’ is on our money”–so there’s another batch of coins off to the engraver–and the old favorite “they don’t believe, so why do they care?“–apparently you can either believe in god or the constitution, but not both), and then try turning it around. Imagine that there was nothing on the coins at all–not God, not Allah, not Thor, but also not “there is no god”–and imagine that their arguments were being made in opposition to a push to put “In God We Trust” on the coins to begin with. Virtually every argument they make works just as well against putting their god in our pledge (or on our money).

And then, look up in the right hand upper corner of the site, and read their own pledge:

The Fox Nation is for those opposed to intolerance, excessive government control of our lives, and attempts to monopolize opinion or suppress freedom of thought, expression, and worship.

And they probably believe it. They just don’t understand it.

The Pronoun Game

The media say
Bradley Manning, today
Has decided he’s making a change
He’s making a stand
With his latest demand
But reactions have been a bit… strange.

Cos as far as I see,
It’s all “Bradley” and “he”
Like the networks are sharing one plan
But it’s Chelsea, you see,
(And the pronoun is “she”)
Who’s stopped living her life as a man

So… on Here and Now, on NPR, the hosts announced Manning’s request, and that they would be referring to her as Chelsea from now on. But the rest of NPR (at least while I was listening) was not on the same page. Most of the news sources that I have seen have struggled a bit, most often landing on “he” and “Bradley”.

This blog, unless I suffer some sharp blow to the head at some point, will speak of her as Chelsea. Comments, too, please. My house, my rules.

Ok, that’s done. The real reason for this post was to point you to Zinnia’s blog (I’m sure most of you are already readers), where Lauren simply rocks.

Feelings And Actions

He felt he was in love again—so many years had passed
And every time he saw her face, his heart would beat so fast

It happened out in public—you could see it all along
But surely, it was out of love, and could not, thus, be wrong

He never hid his feelings—he was sure to let them show
And because he signed her paychecks, well, she couldn’t tell him ‘no’

He never went ‘too far’, of course—that anyone could tell
And if she felt uncomfortable, she hid it very well

He always was a charmer—he never was a jerk
He loved the way her hair would gleam, and she? She needed work.

He acted out of love, you see—it couldn’t be his fault
He saw it as a friendship… but she saw it as assault.

There is no end to the “advice” given to the victims of sexual harassment and assault. They should have done this differently, or that differently, or worn different clothes, or not smiled, or smiled more, or not been so friendly, or not so distant, or any of dozens of other mutually impossible things. So you can look for that advice elsewhere. This is for the people who are actually at fault.

I had a friend who engaged in sexual harassment. I was there when it happened, and did not see it. This advice is your chance to learn from my mistake. (The harassed woman did go to my friend’s supervisor, and he was disciplined and counseled, and the situation was resolved to her satisfaction. All of which I learned about much later, when I learned that what I had been witnessing was, in fact, harassment.)

My friend openly confided that he was utterly smitten with X. They seemed to have a great working relationship. She was working in his lab, on an honors project, gathering and crunching data. He was her advisor. I could go into more detail, but I’d rather not.

Now, it is entirely possible that he knew exactly what he was doing, and was deliberately manipulating the situation–including my own perceptions of what was happening–to his own end. That is quite possible. But I’m going to assume, for now, that what he told me was honest, was his very real reaction, and that he had no intention of harm whatsoever.

He was still in the wrong. He was still harassing, creating a hostile workplace, and perhaps more. It was not up to her to make his boundaries clear; he was in a position of power over her. It does not matter what his motivation was; what matters is his behavior, and his behavior was inappropriate.

Our culture thrives on stories of motivation, especially the ultimate motivation, love. Romantic comedies show us that stalking is ok, as long as it is for true love (which will be rewarded in the final reel). The old fogeys among us might remember what a cultural event it was when Luke and Laura got married; they met, of course, when he raped her. Love conquers all.

No, it doesn’t. It doesn’t matter that my friend was in love (or claimed to be–for today’s purposes, I am assuming he is being honest). Actions do not have to be motivated by a desire for control, or power, or dominance; behavior does not have to reflect misogyny, or hatred, or disdain. The road to criminal behavior may be paved with the best of intentions.

Motivation is no excuse. Don’t search your feelings; look at your behavior. If you are in a privileged position, it is never up to your subordinate to set limits. By the time someone corrects your behavior, you have gone too far.

His case is what changed my thinking on this–I hope that, in a similar situation, I would now know better. I did nothing at the time, because I saw nothing. I was looking at his motivation, not at his behavior. I was wrong.

Learn from my mistake.