No, Patheos, You Can’t Have These New Bloggers Either!

Huzzah, Miriam and Paul are here! And they are awesome. You should go read them if you haven’t already.

Brute Reason

Brute Reason banner, image courtesy Miriam.

Miriam does a lot of social justice, psychology, and other interesting bits. I’ll confess I’ve been spelunking her archives while I should have been doing Very Serious Work. I’m enjoying her a lot, and she’s another reason why I’m proud to be a part of FtB.

Near-Earth Object banner, courtesy Paul

Near-Earth Object banner, courtesy Paul

Paul’s blog is lovely – lots of fascinating tidbits and quotes and science. And his banner has Galileo’s stars in it. I <3 his blog!

Between the main bloggers and the co-bloggers and guest bloggers on this network, we’ve got an incredible lineup. Some days, I have no idea why I’m a part of it. Other days, I know it’s because FtB is smart enough to know it needs a resident geologist. Doesn’t every network?

And every network should have a Miriam and a Paul, but they can’t have them because they joined us. Ha ha ha suck it, Patheos! Hands off our new bloggers.

Everyone else, please give Miriam and Paul a very warm welcome, and enjoy!

To Patheos, Re: Our New Bloggers

Dear Patheos,

After having seen our ranks decimated* by your network, we here at Freethought Blogs have finally recovered enough to add two excellent new bloggers: Avicenna and NonStampCollector. You probably noticed them the instant they appeared, but for the edification of others, I shall proceed to say a bit about them anyway.

Avicenna is a British medical student of Indian descent who is completing his clinical training in India. He’s genius. We folks who live and work in countries dominated by the three “great” monotheistic religions don’t know how good we’ve got it. Yes, these religions can be nasty, brutish and theocratic, but there is at least only one god** to contend with. Avicenna has to deal with a million (numeric 1,000,000 or French “holy fuck that’s a shitload of gods!”). And he does it brilliantly, while also taking on a plethora of other issues. I think he may even have sparked the beginnings of the logical evolution of Rickrolling, which in this case would be Psyrolling, or some clever word I’ve not come up with. Despite that, I’ve been enjoying his work immensely.

NonStampCollector is a superbly talented Australian living in Japan whose YouTube videos helped preserve my sanity during costume-sewing madness. He made me laugh hard enough to stab myself with a needle more than once. I now have an arsenal of videos for lobbing at literalists. Here is one:

His blog often takes ridiculous comments from his YouTube channel and skewers them mercilessly.

These are our new bloggers. They are awesome. We’re excited they’re here. And no, you can’t have them. Don’t even try.

Sincerely,

Dana Hunter

 

*For the pedants: yes, it was a decimation. We have ~30 blogs, and they took 3: Libby Anne, JT, and Dan. That’s a tenth. So shh before you start.

**Or, if you count a certain way, three. Or one god plus thousands of saints. Or 3 gods + 1,000s of saints. Still: not a million.

One of Our Best Bloggers Needs You

Greta Christina is one of the writers I respect most in the world. She recently became a full-time freelance writer, and it seems the world has been out to get her ever since. Her father died just a few weeks ago – then she was diagnosed with endometrial cancer early this week. It’s not the worst kind of cancer a person can have, and hopefully was caught early enough so it can be cured with merely major surgery, but it’s going to sideline her for a bit. And this is at the beginning of her freelance career, which means no cushion built up. And this is freelancing we’re talking about – there is no paid sick leave.

So she could use a hand. Do you want to help out? You can donate to her directly, or buy her excellent book, or recommend easy entertainment to keep her from going mad during convalescence. I’m assuming things featuring cute kittehs are priority, but please try to grade things by humor: aww cute should be fine for the first two weeks, gentle giggles for weeks 2-3, ramping up gradually to chuckles and, eventually, when healing has progressed so far, gales of laughter.

And give her love. Lots and lots of love.

Greta Christina’s head, plus kittehs. I think her body is under that pile somewhere, but it’s hard to tell from the photo. Image credit Greta Christina, from 6 Things Cat Owners Dare Not Think About on Catster.

(A note to any religious readers: please respect the fact that Greta is an atheist. Please don’t tell her you’re praying for her, that God has a plan, etc. You’re welcome to believe those things, but we don’t, and don’t find them at all comforting. Thank you for understanding.)

Damn You, Patheos!

First they stole Libby Anne, which was annoying enough – she’s one of my favorite bloggers, and I was delighted when she joined us. But now they’ve poached JT Eberhard, and that’s where I must draw the line, damn it. One of the best things about joining FtB was having the honor of sharing the same network as one of my personal heroes.

JT Eberhard. Photo courtesy MikeSheridan89.

I’ve been kind of stunned into silence by the whole thing. I mean, on the one hand, JT’s embarked on a career as a full-time writer and lecturer, which is fantastic, and I’m thrilled for him. On the other hand, I’m gonna miss having his ass around here. You have no idea how much fun it is to work with him. It’s been a pleasure getting to know him not just as a blogger and an activist, but as a friend.

I’m glad Patheos recognizes his talent, but I’ll never forgive them for stealing him away. And I have a personal message for them, which I hope they’ll pay attention to:

Look, you fuckers: stop picking us off one-by-one. Since you obviously have discerning taste and like so many FtBloggers, just offer to move the whole damned network over there and be done with it. Then I can be with JT and Libby Anne again. *sniffle*

Ah, well, I still have all the other bloggers who make FtB great – until Patheos gets round to snatching them up, too. JT may have moved to a different network, but he’s still one of us, and still my friend. And I have you, my darlings. (Attention, Patheos: If you steal my readership next, I will understand it as a declaration of blog war. You have been warned.)

I’m not going to say I hope JT succeeds in his new endeavors, because I know he will. It would be like hoping water continues being H2O. I’m just going to say that Patheos had better treat him right, or else, and that I hope he gets a speaking gig in Seattle very soon, because there’s a drink out here with his name upon it.

Visit his new digs and wish him well. Also, have popcorn handy. Now that he’s not got a day job, that means the leash is off. This should be fun

FreethoughtBlogs Just Got That Much More Awesome

Sometimes, I have no idea what I’m doing here, and I mean that in a good way. It’s nice to blog on a network filled with so many consistently awesome people. And we’ve just added two kickass atheists to the bunch: Zinnia Jones and Ashley Miller. They’re the vanguard for our videoblogging horde. Not only do they vlog, they blog, and they are outstanding writers. With Ashley and Zinnia, I think we have achieved a majority share of awesome atheists online. And dere r moar on teh wai!

Suddenly, taking over the world doesn’t seem like an impossibility…

Mount St. Helens Esoterica. Also, Blogathon for the SSA!

I’m deep in research for upcoming Mount St. Helens posts, so blogging will be light for a few days. Fortunately for you, some of my fellow FtBers are insane enough to engage in a blogathon for the Secular Student Alliance. Right now, Brianne at Biodork and Christina at WWJTD are engaged in mad blogging for an excellent cause. So read JT’s post about his work for the SSA and why it’s so critically important. It’s a great read, full of squee moments and packed with controversy. Once you’ve done that, are fired up and ready to go, head on over and support Brianne and Christine in their efforts to raise cold hard cash for secular students.

While they’re doing that, I’m diving deep into that monster 800+ paper on Mount St. Helens, collecting all sorts of delicious science for ye, and lemme tell ya, our Prelude to a Catastrophe series on Rosetta Stones is about to get explosive. In the meantime, here are some of the random bits that have amused me to no end during this long slog:

[Read more…]

This Is Why I’m So Damned Proud to Blog Here

I told you recently about The Conversation. It’s still ongoing, despite attempts to derail it by some folks who just can’t quite seem to understand why sexual harassment is not okay, and that putting policies in place to ensure harassment is handled quickly and appropriately are not, in fact, going to to turn the skeptical and atheist movements into the Taliban. It’s ongoing despite the fact that people who should know better seem to believe discussing these problems is the problem, not the problems themselves. (If that kind of blame-the-messenger syndrome reminds you a little of the Bush regime’s attempts to sweep problems under the rug by attacking the people who mentioned problems instead of solving the actual problems themselves, you are not alone.)

Despite all of the folks who just can’t quite seem to understand that harassment is a real issue, that it’s bad, and that steps need to be taken to reduce it, whilst still ensuring people get to have fun and be flirty if with other people who also want to be fun and flirty, The Conversation is resulting in some real progress.

The Conversation is moving forward.

And it’s moving in large part because so many of the people who blog here at FreethoughtBlogs are ensuring it doesn’t stop.

I just wanted to take this opportunity to mention how much I love the folks I blog alongside of, and how very proud of them I am. This conversation isn’t easy. But they’re keeping it going, and because of them and other hard-working people who know The Conversation is worth having, conventions will be a hell of a lot safer and happier for everybody, abusers excepted.

You guys are amazing.

 

(Standard reminder for posts on sensitive subjects: First-time comments go automatically to moderation. Swearing and disagreement are fine, but keep it within bounds. Gendered epithets, misogyny, abuse of other commenters, and other misbehavior won’t be tolerated. You might wish to review the cantina’s comment policy before you comment.

ETEV has, so far, had nothing but good people having good talks in the threads, even when disagreements spring up. And I want to thank my regulars and my newbies, who have all ensured that the discussions we have are thoughtful, productive, and quite often fun. You, my darlings, are the best!)

“Don’t Think Your Life Didn’t Matter”

Ando Hiroshige, Evening Snow at Kanbara. Image credit: The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Leaving religion can be soul-crushing, at first. The memory of all that pain has faded for me, and it wasn’t as if I’d spent my life immersed in faith. I’d just been raised to believe God was out there, somewhere, and had a fleeting flirtation with Pentecostalism, before a years-long seeking after something. Something huge, something magical, something that would make this world have meaning. I did have the crisis: if there’s nothing but us, isn’t this all futile? Doesn’t that mean it’s meaningless?

I found no gods, no magic, no higher powers, nothing: in nothing, found everything I ever needed or wanted. Paradox? Perhaps. Truth is, I don’t miss the supernatural. I don’t yearn for it anymore. Nothing is full of everything. This universe, physicists think, may just possibly have come from “nothing.” Nothing’s really something! But it’s not really that sort of nothing I’m talking about, but the absence of supernatural somethings. Nothing supernatural exists turns out to be a fantastic universe to live in.

It’s just that when you’ve been taught to see the supernatural as the only thing that gives life meaning, that’s a hard nothing to swallow.

I was reminded of that reading Lisa’s blog, Broken Daughters, over the weekend. In October 2011, there’s this soul cry:

I really admire the way atheists can deal with life. Life is a journey, there is no judgement, enjoy it while you can cause once the light is out, it’s really out. Nothingness. Darkness. The end. And the audience gets up, wipes the last pieces of popcorn off their clothes and leaves. That was a nice movie, they’ll say. What was it about? Forgotten before we reach home. Who cares, there’s many other movies to watch.

If that is true then I have wasted my life. Or at least parts of it. There is nobody who wants my best, who makes sure I do all the things I need to do before I die. I might get hit by a bus tomorrow and that’s that.

Yup. Absolutely true. Hell, you don’t even have to leave the house: choke on a chicken bone, slip in the shower, and the curtain goes down on your life. Over and done. There was a time when that terrified me, back when I needed to believe. Utterly paralyzed me. To the point where I had a crisis every time I had to travel. There was me, going down the checklist as I packed: toothbrush, underwear, legacy? If I didn’t leave a legacy behind, what good was I? What good was my life? I’d be so upset if I died without finishing my books! So useless!

And then, one day after becoming an atheist, going into that panic mode, I stopped and laughed. Heartily laughed. What did it matter if I died? I wouldn’t know about it. There’s no me left to care. No soul up in Heaven, looking down (or, if you believe some, in Hell looking up) mourning all of those things I haven’t finished. So what am I doing here worrying about it when I could be enjoying the journey instead?

Some people may believe that’s nihilistic, that joy in nothing. But I don’t see it that way. It’s freed me. I no longer spend major portions of my day fretting over death. I don’t mourn my life before it’s over. I used to. Don’t now. I just plunge in to the things I love to do: my geology and my writing and movies and teevee and music and adventures with friends and cuddles with kitteh and, even, on occasion, quality time with family. I eat food I really like. I read books I enjoy. I don’t live each day as if it were my last, because that’s stupid advice: do you really think I’d be going to work in the morning if this were my last day on earth? But no matter how shitty the day is, I seek out a little joy in it. Every single day, there’s something wonderful, no matter how dismal everything else is. Every single day, I can say if I check out now, the people I leave behind don’t have to worry if I’d feel any regrets. For one thing, I can’t feel a damn thing. I’m dead. For another, it’s been a good ol’ life, on the whole, and I got to do quite a bit of what I wanted, and I did the best I could. Not everything. We’ve already established it’ll take immortality to achieve that, and even then, I doubt infinity will be quite long enough. But there’s very little I’d change. And don’t feel bad for me, dying with so much to look forward to, all those things I wanted to do and never got the chance. I got to look forward to them. That’s a joy all to itself, that anticipation.

I wasn’t so sanguine before I became an atheist. I always had shoulds and gonna regrets if I don’t dos hanging over my head. Now, I don’t. And that has made living all the sweeter. Especially since I’m determined to live, as fully and productively as possible.

But let me revisit this bit:

There is nobody who wants my best, who makes sure I do all the things I need to do before I die.

Oh, my dear. Oh, Lisa. I nearly cried right there, I did, because sweetheart, it’s not true.

No god wants your best. But you’ve got friends who love you, root for you, absolutely want your best. You’ve got readers. You’ve got family (your aunt, at the very least). Can we make sure you “do all the things” before you die? No. No one can. Even God, if one existed, couldn’t. All you can do is what everyone else does: enough. You’ll leave unfinished business behind. That’s inevitable. But you’ll have accomplished plenty, as long as you keep on keeping on. Keep doing stuff. Love and life and adventure and ordinary things and the occasional bit of extraordinary, if you’re able. In the end, no one needs to say you did it all. Just that you did. Just that you lived, as best you could, as fully as you could.

And Lisa: you can already say that. Trust me. I read your entire blog. I know you’ve touched lives. I know you’ve done extraordinary things. You’ll do more in the time you’ve got left. You’ll do all you can, and that’s enough.

And we, your friends, your readers, wanted your best. You know what? We got it.

That’s my criteria these days. When those moments come when I step out of the house and know I may never see it again, because shit happens – the Cascadia subduction zone could slip today, and the building at work may not be quite as earthquake-resistant as they believe it is. In those moments, I know I haven’t done all. My novels aren’t finished, my non-fiction books aren’t written, I haven’t seen Series 7 of Doctor Who or heard the new Epica album. I haven’t figured out New England’s bizarre geology, or learned how to cook chicken tikka masala. All of that’s okay. I wrote this blog, touched lives, sometimes changed them. I had a hell of a lot of fun. I did as much as I could without driving myself insane by driving myself too hard. People wanted my best: they got the best I could give, and they’ve appreciated it, will remember it. Hopefully, if the cat survives me, they will also remember to feed her, despite her evil disposition.

All that I have is a bunch of memories in my brain, and once my time is over they’ll rot away with the rest. Forgotten for eternity. Who will remember me? …. Vanishing as if they’d never been there. That is my fate, and yours too, if there is no God.

Oh, yes. that terrified me, too. That need for some sort of immortality drove me, nearly drove me insane, made me mourn every birthday because I hadn’t published my magnum opus yet and I’d be totes forgotten. I don’t know where that comes from. I don’t know why we need this eternal memory so very much. I don’t need it now. Oh, surely, it would be nice: have my name echo down through the ages like Sappho and Shakespeare. I’d very much love my words to matter that long. It’s a goal. But. But. This isn’t bad, this temporary immortality. A generation, perhaps two, friends and family who have fond living memories of me. Another generation or two, perhaps, that will hear of Dana Hunter, before she quietly fades away, and the world goes on without her. That’s not bad. That’s the least we can expect, and it’s not bad at all. Meanwhile, our molecules and atoms will go cheerfully on. Whether they know it or not, a little bit of Dana, which once was a little bit of a star and who knows what else on its way to being me, will be a little bit of someone or something else. Do I need a god to remember me, to validate my existence? Do I need a god to trace all those atoms that were once Dana? No. I’ve had friends and family and readers. I’ve had my cat. I’ve had strangers who never knew my name, but know a delightful new fact because of me. I’ve had enough. Not all, but enough. And part of me marches on, to become someone else, who perhaps will never be forgotten. Who knows?

I certainly won’t. Dead, remember? What’s fame to the no-longer-existent? No worries! So why waste time worrying about it now?

Speaking of waste:

I might seem like a calm person but I’m constantly afraid. Where’d I put my time? It’s running through my fingers like water, dripping on thirsty ground. There’s nothing I can do to get it back. Sometimes I want to scream, at my family, my friends, at my readers, at random people on the street: “DO SOMETHING! Time is short! Do something with it! You’re wasting!”

But every life has its “wasted” moments. Moments we could’ve spent doing something else, something “important,” something different. Every single life ever lived is full of wasted time. But every single one of those moments went in to making you who and what you are. Useful or useless, they’re all part of the package. So, you’re not rich, famous, a saint. You haven’t cured cancer, you haven’t written deathless prose (although you can’t know the prose you wrote is terminal, not until long after you’re gone, so the jury’s still out on that one). You haven’t done it all. What is this “all?” What is it compared to the things you have done? Those wasted moments and wasted opportunities are a necessary part of you. Without them, you wouldn’t be you.

And you have used them to touch the lives around you. Who says that’s a waste? By whose criteria? Certainly not by mine. I “wasted” a lot of time reading your blog when I should have been reading papers on Mount St. Helens and East Coast geology, or working on my books, or blogging. I “waste” my time with a lot of people that way. And you know what? I do not feel that time was wasted at all. You’ve become a part of me, part of my strength and understanding and love for this world. You’ve become an inspiration, and someone I’m rooting for, and someone who helps me become more compassionate.

Yes, our time is a finite resource. We do not have eternity. We can’t completely piss our time away. But those idle moments, those moments spent doing something other than what we’re “supposed” to, those moments headed in the “wrong” direction, they’re an important and necessary part of us. The only time I’d advise you to stop wasting is the time spent regretting them, although not altogether, because that regret isn’t always wasted either, now, is it? Every moment makes us who we are.

The point is this: your life matters, and matters intensely, with or without enduring memory. It matters now. It matters very much right now, to you and to those who love you. It will have mattered very much while there are still those alive who remember you. And it will have mattered just as much in a future you’re long forgotten in, because for this time, you mattered. That doesn’t go away. Not ever. Not just because a god isn’t there to remember. This universe might have been similar, but not exactly the same, without you. Just because, in some future you’re not even conscious of, someone doesn’t remember it was precisely you who existed and mattered intensely in that long-ago fragment of time, doesn’t make your life right now any less important.

There is a poem by Basho. It’s a poem that started running in a continuous loop through my mind as I read your post. Here is is:

An autumn night.
Don’t think your life
Didn’t matter.

How often has that poem floated through my mind! In moments when some small thing has happened that has made me delighted to be alive. I’ve thought of it when viewing ephemeral cherry blossoms, and hearing bird song, and reading words of interesting but not quite famous people. What a gift that little haiku is! What a centering, calming triplet of lines, those three, reminding me to slow down and breathe and exist and cease worrying about Meaning with a capital M, but enjoy the little-m meanings that fill a life.

Basho didn’t need a god to write those lines. We don’t need a god to appreciate them. We don’t need religion to give them impact. They are very human lines. They’ve survived for over three centuries now, and I will not be surprised if, should time travel be invented and I ever visit a far-flung future, they should be found thousands of years hence, reminding another generation of humans who stumble across them that a life matters.

By a human, for humans, inspired by a human. Basho wrote them for his niece-by-marriage, Jutei, a Buddhist nun. His nephew, her husband, died of tuberculosis; he began taking care of her and his grand-nieces and nephews; she herself died, not long after; he wrote those three lines for her.

An autumn night.
Don’t think your life
Didn’t matter.

Without Basho, his nephew, his nephew’s wife, all of the people who had existed before them who had made their birth possible, all of the people around them who had made these people who they were, those three lines wouldn’t exist. Without all of them, no simple yet profound little haiku. No three lines popping up all over the place, meaning something to people over three hundred years later, losing none of their beauty and poignancy even if you didn’t know their story (which I didn’t, until tonight).

Those lives mattered. Most of them had no idea just how much. We will never know just how much our lives matter. There are no gods who know. Perhaps people in the future will never know. But just because there’s this don’t-know, that doesn’t make us matter any less.

Don’t think your life didn’t matter.

Mount Unzen in Autumn. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

She’ll Make It a Country For Women

This is still kinda secret, because magic buttons haven’t been pressed in order to make her appear on the front page, but Taslima Nasreen has joined us, and she’s come out of the gate roaring. I’ll admit that I read her first post at work. I very nearly told the person who called in while I was in the middle of it to hold a minute while I finished, or at least let me read her post aloud to them so we could finish it together.

I feel like reading the whole thing to you, but you’re old and wise enough to go read it yourself. I’ll just give you a taste:

A recurrent question that is often raised claims that I have hurt religious sentiments of people. Feminism has long opposed religion; whoever has even the slightest knowledge of women’s rights knows this. Religion is patriarchal through and through. I shall follow a religion and I shall acknowledge women’s rights – this stance is akin to saying I shall drink poison along with honey. Whenever religion-motivated abuse of women has been challenged in order to wrest women’s rights, immediately the slogan “Religious sentiments must not be hurt” has been raised by those that are anti-democracy, anti-free speech, and opposed to women’s freedom. I, however, don’t refer to any kind of barbarism as culture.

Hells to the fucking yes! I wish she’d been writing when I was in college. I wish I’d had these words, from someone who is there, to give to the well-meaning folks who were all about the respecting other cultures and not judging because that’s like totes imperialistic. I think my Women’s Studies teacher might have got it. Quite a few of the rest of them might have, too. Respecting different ways of living is all lovely, and diverse cultures welcome, but respect for those differences does not and should never extend to shrugging off oppression and violence by saying, “Well, it’s their culture, and we’re wrong to judge.” I wish I’d understood that back in my early twenties.

Thanks to amazing and courageous people like Taslima, I’m starting to get it.

So go read her post.

And maybe also this interview, in which so much territory is covered that I can’t really sum it up, but includes this bit on exile that has haunted me since I read it:

People ask why I don’t stay in Europe. In India, I am in a familiar place. (Points to a tree outside the window) I know the trees; I have grown up watching the same trees in Bangladesh. People won’t understand this… For someone who has lost her home, it means a lot. That’s why I feel at home in Kolkata.

With Taslima Nasreen, FtB has just leapt a megaparsec forward in awesomeness.