Hunting The Gene For Evil

We’ve got the killer’s DNA
And you know what that means—
We’re going to look for evil
In some broken set of genes

We’re on a search for evil’s cause
And here’s an added plus:
We’re looking for an answer
That will distance him from us.

So, yeah, I’m behind the others on this (the Cuttlekids are still here, so I’m having fun in meatspace), but it seems there will be a search for answers in a place pretty much guaranteed to find something utterly meaningless and useless… which is exactly what is wanted.

You already know I think most of the public hypothesizing has been an exercise in self-protective othering; we see a monster who looks remarkably like us, and need to distance ourselves from him. Whether we blame the removal of prayer from classrooms (good people like us who want prayer would never have the sort of evil in our souls that could cause behavior like this), mental illness (the outsider label of choice for centuries), or an unfortunate genetic predisposition (it’s not his fault; he’s just different from us normal folk), we are pursuing an explanation that allows us to look for blame rather than cause.

There are abundant causes we can point to in the environment–but those are things that apply to the rest of us, as well as the killers that make the headlines. Mind you, most killers don’t make the headlines. We usually kill people by ones and twos, and hardly ever make the national news. Chicago, today, hit 500 homicides (oops–499 and counting); New York is on track for a 400-homicide year. We know that New England has the lowest regional rate of murder, and that the South has (by far) the highest. This is not a genetic difference, this is a difference of cultures, of economics, of education. But these are differences we could actually look at meaningfully, with an eye toward making changes. Maybe that’s why we’re looking at genes instead.

Far better to have something that we cannot change, that allows us to blame someone else, than to find something we *can* change if we accept that there are no monsters, just people like ourselves, and that it’s normal people, not monsters, who are killing one another by the thousands every year.

No Atheists At Memorials For Children?

The Los Angeles Times is running an interesting opinion piece, tying the memorial for the Newtown victims with church-state separation issues (among other things). It’s worth reading, and worth commenting on. They 1) note the ecumenical nature of the service, 2) assert that a non-religious memorial would have been somehow incomplete and off-putting, and 3) note the lack of complaint by atheist groups about the inclusion of religious text at a memorial held at a secular school. It’s as if they are surprised that atheist groups haven’t reacted to this funeral like, say, the Westboro Baptist Church has. (The WBC is not mentioned in the story.)

I was moved to comment at the LA Times site:

A few years ago, my atheist brother died; his atheist children and atheist siblings, myself included, were offended by, but did not object to, blatantly religious elements at his memorial. I could have gone on at length about how my brother’s good works grew from his atheism, from his understanding that he, not some god, was the power that could make the world better for the children he loved. That his actions, not prayers, made a difference.
His friends and neighbors knew he was an atheist, but not everyone did, and (it is the dominant, privileged culture, after all) christian messages were featured by many of the speakers. From the perspective of my brother’s children, this was inappropriate. I agree. But it would also have been inappropriate for us to choose that moment to make a stand. There was something far more important happening–we were comforting one another, knowing we would never see my brother, their father, again.
The fact that there are no explicitly atheistic elements at a funeral does not mean there are no atheists there. It does not mean that atheists don’t find some of the religious messages inappropriate. We (I speak for myself, at least) recognize that this is how the religious grieve. We let them, as we wish they would let us. It would be nice if my own funeral were non-theistic… but at that point, I won’t be able to control what happens.

What are your own thoughts? I was limited at the Times by character count, and perhaps by the need to speak to a different audience than reads here. Feel free to respond, both here and there.

“The Right Kind Of Christian” Goes Voting

“The right kind of Christian” is hard to define
Except that his views are exactly like mine.
He believes in the bible (the parts that he’s read—
While the wrong kind of Christian reads others instead)
The right kind of Christian will vote as I vote
She’s certain which issues are issues of note.
She sees every issue the way that I see
While the wrong kind of Christian is different from me.
The right kind of Christian has made up his mind
He’s thinking like Jesus, I think you will find;
Let’s hope that the vote goes the way He would choose
And pray that the wrong kind of Christians will lose.

An article in CNN’s Belief Blog today asks whether Obama is “the wrong kind of Christian”; both within the article itself and within the comments, it is clear that the only agreement on what “the wrong kind of Christian” is, is that it includes all Christians who are not like oneself. “Love thy neighbor” cannot coexist with “I did not come to bring peace, but a sword”, when it comes to foreign or domestic policy. As always, one’s Christianity is a Rorschach test.

What is sad, but not surprising, is that each side (and there are many sides) points to the bad they see in other (self-labeled) Christians as evidence that the others are not “real” Christians, never as evidence that “real Christians” might sometimes do bad things. “Christianity” gets to be all the good stuff, and none of the bad, even when what is good and what is bad varies from person to person.

Do They Never Learn? Elmhurst, Meet Cranston.

We like to tell you “character counts”
In big displays, and small amounts,
With that in mind, I’m proud to announce
The speaker for this year
This speaker stood up for your rights
In one of many legal fights;
She’s one of freedom’s shining lights
Oh, yes—and she’s your peer.

A student, just like one of you
Who saw a task she had to do
And bravely, boldly, saw it through
Despite some daunting odds.
This student knew that what she saw—
That banner—was against the law.
The school board’s thinking had a flaw:
They thought their view was God’s

But Jessica’s an atheist—
A point the people haven’t missed—
And she was right; the laws insist
The town must heed the wall…
The wall the locals seem to hate
That separates the church and state
A bruised and battered wall, of late,
But one that serves us all

When church and state are intertwined
Best hope your faith’s the favored kind;
God help your faithful, should you find
You bet against the king.
But when your faith and his collides,
Or privileged status somehow slides,
Then thank your stars that on your side’s
An Evil Little Thing. [Read more...]

Because I Am An Atheist

My contribution to Crommunist’s wonderful series, “Because I am an atheist”.

Because I am an atheist
The world is mine to fix.
No god prevents the plunderers,
The hypocrites, the dicks.
No god rewards the good we do
Or punishes the bad;
No afterlife awaits us,
Just the single life we’ve had.

Because I am an atheist
It’s up to me to change.
The world is what we make it,
Not some god’s to rearrange—
To recognize a problem, means
To seek solutions, too;
Because I am an atheist
I’m watching out for you.

Because I am an atheist
I cannot simply pray.
I cannot wish a problem gone
And make it go away.
God’s promise of protection
Is just one of many lies;
Because I am an atheist
I cannot close my eyes.

Enough verse. Because I am an atheist, I teach a course aimed at applying the best tools of my science toward making the world a better place. Because I am an atheist, I donate blood instead of praying for sick friends or relatives. Because I am an atheist (and an “out” atheist), I try to live as a counterexample to the “evil atheist” stereotype, and serve as a resource for others who are leaving a faith community and unsure of what might lie ahead.

That’s what I do in meatspace. Online, I write silly verses. Because I am an atheist, they tend to be from a different perspective than, say, Hallmark.

Know Your Audience!

Know your audience! If you choose your audience well, you have no need to be funny, or informative, or rational, or coherent.

Ok, maybe you all already knew that. But I’ve been teaching at Cuttlefish U., and our students are actually pretty smart, so I clearly have not chosen my audience well. And you, dear readers, are even smarter (and probably better looking, and you likely smell pretty good too), so I can’t get away with things like cheap flattery.

Actually… come to think of it, you *are* smart–so could one of you please explain the following to me? From context, I get that it is supposed to be funny. That’s point B. I need somebody to get me there from point A: [Read more...]