Happy 25th, Fall of the Berlin Wall!

Twenty-five years since that wall came down. I was a teenager, watching on teevee as citizens pulled it apart, climbed up on it and celebrated, uniting Germany. I remember being astonished that it was happening in my lifetime, and feeling giddy as I watched people reach out and grasp freedom with both hands. It was awesome.

The Scorpions captured the mood of the late 80s and early 90s well, as people in Eastern Bloc countries wrested political control from their masters, and embraced democracy. Winds of change definitely were blowing.

The Cold War ended. And spy novel writers everywhere had to find a new Big Bad to write about…

Now if we could just end other wars, that would be outstanding. I’d love to see the world united. Yes, of course, we’d still have our differences and problems. No, of course it wouldn’t be perfect. But to be able to work things out without war, cold or hot? I’ll take it. Moar winds of change, plz.

Image shows people standing in front of and atop the Berlin Wall. One person is being helped up to the top by others.

People atop the Berlin Wall near the Brandenburg Gate on 09 November 1989. The text on the sign “Achtung! Sie verlassen jetzt West-Berlin” (“Notice! You are now leaving West Berlin”) has been modified with an additional text “Wie denn?” (“How?”). Also in blue is the logo for ONCE, whose cycling team was started in 1989. Image and caption by Sue Ream via Wikimedia Commons.

This Pwnage Applies to All Sniveling Dictionary Atheists

Another day, another white male atheist stuffed full of himself to bursting, all eager to tell us icky feminists, people of color, LGBTQ folk, and other sundry social justice warrior types that we’re getting smudge marks all over his atheism. It’s pristine! It’s pure! It’s just a dictionary definition! Ewww, stop getting your SJW cooties all over it, yucky! *runs away screaming like the boys we used to chase at recess in the first grade*

Today, it’s Michael Luciano. Tomorrow, it’ll be some other dumbshit waving a dictionary around and pompously declaring atheism a pristine nothing. Well, if you’re the sort who likes to sit around feeling all smug and superior over nothing, fantastic. It’s a big ol’ world full of chairs, and you’re welcome to drag one into the corner and sit there enjoying the fact you played the Wednesday Adaams Game and came up with no for an answer.

Image is two stills from The Adaams Family. The top image has Wednesday standing next to an electric chair, saying, "We can play a game." Bottom image shows her strapping Pugsley into the chair, and saying, "It's called 'IS THERE A GOD?'"

Should you decide to sit in your chair and enjoy your triumph, perhaps gently sneering at churchgoers as they pass by your window, no one will worry a bit about the fact you’re a pathetic specimen of a human being. Seriously. What the hell use are you if all you can do is wave your arms and shout, “The dictionary definition of an atheist is all atheism is!”?

Like Buffy and the Scoobies said, “Where do we go from here?”

Cuz that ain’t it, muffin. That’s like answering a single question on Jeopardy! and then running around the set screaming, “I win! I win! I am better than Ken Jennings and everyone for all time!!!” You look like an absolute jackass, doing that shit in public. Especially when you go beyond the dictionary definition of atheism and start doing things like challenging creationism or public prayer. Where is your dictionary atheism now, buttwart?

Anyway. I could take the Smack-o-Matic down from the wall and administer some loving* correction, but it’s ever so much more fun to watch other people accomplish the job far better than I could. I shall allow them to take it from here.

Image is an orange and white kitty with its head in its paw. Caption says, "Oh, geez... ai splained it elebinty times."

PZ’s gotcher dictionary definition right here:

Here’s a definition for you: “a person who disbelieves or lacks belief in the existence of God or gods”. There is an important word in there: “person”. Atheists are people. These dictionary atheists are always quick to forget that. People have responsibilities to each other, and further, the rejection of religion and the understanding that the universe, and we human beings, lack any kind of grand purpose, shapes the pattern of those responsibilities. You simply cannot pretend that atheism is meaningless outside one philosophical abstraction.

Well, I suppose you can…but then how can you find any reason to even be an atheist?

Heina’s got yer top 5 arguments you’re not allowed to use anymore. Here’s one:

Criticizing Islam based on Muhammad’s marriage to a child, anti-woman sentiments, and proscription of apostasy on pain of death is to use social issues to promote atheism. Pure, true atheists would do well to refrain from such criticisms and instead focus solely on the fact that there is no god. Social arguments are not relevant to believing in no gods.

Avicenna explains why beef is an atheist event:

Let’s say you aren’t all that enthralled by Beef Recipes (That sound you heard was Ed Brayton fainting at the mere thought). But we have a bunch of ex-Hindus for whom beef was a major taboo looking forward to eating beef. Now you may think a Big Mac is hardly an earth shattering meal to be consumed to thumb it’s nose at religion but you know what? A fair few Ex-Hindus look forward to eating it when we can. Hell? Penn wrote about a Jewish fan who was breaking Kosher law when he became an atheist who he took out for pork and shellfish.

So to you a Big Mac may not be an atheist event, but to me it is. And that’s the point of having a more inclusive atheism. You begin to realise that many atheists have different ideas.

But you don’t have to take part. No one’s forcing a gun to your head to eat a damn Big Mac.

Olivia patiently explains it’s a people thing, not a liberal or conservative thing:

Oddly enough, there are still some of us out there who are hoping that atheism and people with a shred of human decency are one and the same, and that’s what we’re appealing to. The people who are saying these things don’t give a rat’s ass if you’re liberal or conservative, but they do care if you are actively pushing them out of your movement, discriminating against them, and essentially treating them like worthless piles of shit. Oddly enough, the desire to be given basic human respect and equality is not associated with any political party. The inherent connection between equality and atheism is that there are people who are atheists who want to be treated equally. In case you haven’t figured out where the atheism comes from yet, it comes from the thousands of atheists who are female, people of color, disabled, queer, or any other minority who want an atheist community that lets them in.

Hank_Says talks about what atheism contains, and varieties of justice:

Atheism might not contain but it certainly strongly implies certain positions on social issues: mostly, that without a religious or supernatural source for morals, ethics, law and societal cohesion, humans have to work those things out themselves and base them on reason.

In the realm of social justice, discrimination against women, LGBT people, people of colour and non-religious people, have many religious justifications. Examined in the absence of those religious justifications, there more or less are no reasonable justifications for such discrimination. This implies that the discrimination, being unreasonable, is therefore unjust. Injustice demands opposition; it demands justice.

Atheists often point to the discrimination they experience at the hands of the religious due to their lack of belief; is opposing that discrimination not a social justice issue? What of keeping classrooms, local councils and other public areas and ceremonies secular, so as not to discriminate against non-believers or non-Christians? Is that not seeking justice?

Ed spells it out for the hard-of-thinking:

It should be entirely obvious that one of the damaging effects of religious belief is the denial of equal rights to women, to gay people and even to racial minorities. In all three cases, discriminatory policies are justified by the religious beliefs that atheist activists fight against. We cannot be effective in countering the negative effect of religion-based public policy (or more broadly, cultural norms and non-political societal structures) if we don’t take up those fights for equality.

And Ophelia sums up the frustration of many of us right here:

I’m so fed up with being any part of a movement that has this ridiculous childish hero-worship thing going on. Guys, get over it.

Listen. You can thump your dictionary all you like, Dictionary Atheist. I’m sure you and the Bible thumpers can have a marvelous time together, seeing who can thump their holy book the hardest. Sit in your chair and enjoy all the nothing you believe in. Heck, you can even rouse yourself enough to go out and try to kick religion out of the public sphere, if you wish (although you’ll need to turn in your dictionary for that – it ain’t in the definition of atheist. Sorry, bro). If you don’t want to go beyond that and be a decent, helpful human being who cares about other people and does your best to make the world better, that’s your business. As Avi said, no one’s forcing you at gunpoint. Most of us can’t even stand guns anyway.

But do, please, get the fuck out of the way of those who give a shit. And don’t wave that dictionary at me. I see it’s the Oxford Unabridged, and I assure you that one more wave will earn you a painful thump over the noggin with it.

Image is a gray cat lying atop a hardcover English dictionary, with a slightly annoyed expression. Caption says, "Do not tempt me, sir."

 

*Actually not loving. I kinda don’t like you.

Two Videos to Make Your Heart Go Melty (Unless You’re a Hater)

Sometimes, things happen that remind me the world isn’t filled quite to the brim with assholes. There are plenty of good folk, too. And sometimes, I collect those things and share them with you.

First up, a commercial from a for-profit company that carefully considered some of their customers’ suggestions they hate the non-heterosexual folk and said, “Nah, we’ll go with making love from hate instead.”

Yes, of course I got teary-eyed. Are you kidding? And yes, the cynical will say that of course they laughed at the haters, as ten times as many customers aren’t haters, but this was a rather in-your-face rejection of the hateful message rather than just quietly letting the subject drop. So yes, Honey Maid will of course be my graham cracker of choice whenever I venture into culinary territory that requires them.

Next, we have got a mock-serious Irish ad warning about the gaypocalypse that will surely happen should same-sex folk be allowed to marry. They portray the actual dangers of passing marriage equality legislation. Nailed it. Before you watch, please finish all food and/or drink and remove anything spillable from around the computer, because you’re probably going to be howling with laughter and possibly pounding the table. Let’s not allow the gaypocalypse to claim another victim before it’s got properly started.

Unfortunately, I suspect there actually will be people barricading themselves in little enclaves and homeschooling their children in desperate fear that accepting people different from them will get them zapped by God. They will be as pitiable as the couple in the ad.

Want a bonus video? Of course you do! Here you are: the original hater song!

I don’t know about you, but I kind of feel they were unfair to gibbons… We shall make up for it with a desperately cute meme.

Image shows a cat being hugged by a monkey. Caption reads, "Teh monkee is gibbon meh a hugz."

Ferguson: Some Concrete Actions You Can Take

Things are calming down in Ferguson, but that doesn’t mean we’re done. There’s still a dead teenager, and a culture that finds it all too easy to throw black lives away, and a police department absolutely determined to do nothing, not even fill in a police report on the shooting.

You may feel helpless. You may feel like there’s nothing you can do, but there is. Start small and build, but start. Today.

You can like the Justice for Mike Brown Facebook cause page. You can also like the Justice for Michael Brown community page. Show your support with a couple of clicks.

You can donate to Mike Brown’s family so they have the funds they need to seek justice.

You can send his family a note of condolence.

Tell your Congresscritters to support the Stop Militarizing Law Enforcement Act.

If you’re white, examine your privilege.

And when the police in your community shoot citizens dead, or beat them to a bloody pulp, or taze them, or detain them on flimsy pretenses, or show a pattern of looking the other way when white people do something but crack down when the suspected offender is black, demand accountability.

Some or all of these things should be things we can do. They won’t always be easy. But they’re necessary things, the least we can do.

When I see my black neighbors out walking with their children, I don’t want to wonder if they’ve already had The Talk, and which of those kids will live to have their own kids, and which of them will be stopped and harassed and assaulted by police just because of their skin. I want to wonder what they’ll be when they grow up, whether I’ll see them on the news for inventing a new widget or curing a disease or breaking a world record. I want to give them a better world than their parents, and grandparents, and great-grandparents had. I want them to grow up and grow old in a country where their civil rights are an accomplished fact, not a daily struggle.

Let’s help create that world together. Let’s start now.

Image is a drawing of Mike Brown, with the caption, "I am Mike Brown and my life matters."

Mike Brown. Image courtesy dignidadrebelde via Flickr. (CC BY 2.0)

“What SPECIFICALLY should I be doing to help?”

I’m slowly wading through the comments moderation queue, and this one from Jenny on the without-their-silence article stands out:

I read both articles. I then asked my husband to read both articles. He did. When he was finished, he asked, “What SPECIFICALLY should I be doing to help?” I didn’t have an answer. Neither article appeared to have an answer.

Is there an answer? If so, what is it?

An answer? No. Many answers, yes. A few from the top o’ me noggin:

Believe women. They tell you things that are hard for you to believe, sure. Shut up, though, m’kay? Listen. Absorb what they’re saying, and understand that the world is a very different and quite often hostile place to people who don’t identify as male. That’s the first, and most important one to start: don’t automatically dismiss our obsession with locking doors, and our (to you) excessive caution, and our endless stories about harassment and assault. You haven’t experienced what we have. Listen to our truth.

And do more:

  • Familiarize yourself with everyday sexism.
  • Did you realize you’re doing sexist things? Stop doing them.
  • Stop using sexist epithets. Substitute non-gendered ones instead.
  • Did you realize your buddies, coworkers, family, random jackasses are doing sexist things? Call ‘em out. Doesn’t have to be a huge big deal: a simple, “Hey, that’s not cool, bro” often suffices.
  • How ’bout some feminism 101, now.
  • Hey, mebbe a little more.
  • You’re at work, and the men in the meeting are talking over the women? Speak up! All it takes is a simple, “I believe Sally was trying to make a point” is usually sufficient to shut the over-talkers up.
  • Did some jackass just claim credit for the idea Sally came up with? Point out it was Sally’s idea in the first place.

You’re doing great! Keep on keeping on:

  • Brush up on Schroedinger’s Rapist. No, look, you know you’re not a rapist. That female stranger on the street has no fucking idea who or what you are, though, and she has to play it safe, so don’t take it personally, m’kay?
  • Pay more attention to your phone, or the scenery, or some other dude than that woman or group of women on the bus or on the street or on the trail.
  • Sure, you can say “Hi.” Make it short and casual, and don’t pursue conversation unless she does.
  • If a woman asks you to leave her alone, do just that, cheerfully.
  • See some jackass pressing his attentions on a woman who’s all but screaming “Leave me the fuck alone?” Distract him. Run interference. You don’t need to be all obvious and heroic. Just ask him the time and start chatting him up.
  • Did you witness someone getting harassed? Stand with them against the harasser, and assure them you’ll be happy to be a witness, if it comes to a report. And follow the fuck through.

Image shows an otter on its back with its front paws up. Caption says, "Woah, back off, bro"

All right! You’ve come a long way. Give yourself a tasty reward. And then go further:

Check your male privilege.

Are you in a position to influence diversity in your workplace? In your social circles? Do it.

Support women and minorities when they try to advance.

Don’t be lazy and stop at the usual suspects when you’re thinking of putting together a team at work, or a list of speakers for a conference. Seek out a balance of folks rather than letting it be all white males with only a token woman or PoC.

Insist that any panel you’re on or workgroup you’re in be genuinely diverse.

And don’t stop just because it’s hard.

I could go on. And on and on and on. But I’m going to turn it over to my readers, now, because they are wiser than I am, and will catch things I’ve missed, and have seen the world through different eyes. They can give you more ideas on what to do. I’m just going to end my piece with this:

Challenge yourself to be better.

And do at least one thing, every day, to make this world a better place.

Image shows several variously-colored kittens and a green parrot walking on a mantle. Caption says, "Itteh bitteh kitteh committeh promotes diversiteh."

“And you call this PROTECTION?”

A while ago, Marwa at Between A Veil and a Dark Place unleahed a “tirade of snark” upon a correspondent playing the “No True Muslim” and “Not All Muslims” cards with a heaping helping of apologia. If you haven’t read it yet, it’s about time for you to give it your attention. It’s long, and it has a lot of important ideas to digest, so pick a time when you can devote yourself to it. Get comfy, and read on:

You can string out the same tired sentences and stances a thousand and one times and they’ll still be as flawed and dishonest and inhumane as ever, these phrases, ‘oh, Islam grants women her rights, don’t you know, preserves honor, dignity, and doesn’t condone mistreatment’ and seriously, I ask you, do we live in the same world?

[snip]

So…you think that a woman should have sex when she doesn’t want to so her husband doesn’t fight with her,  abuse her,  and cheat on her?  And you call this PROTECTION?  I hate to break it to you,  but what you described is the goddamn definition of marital rape.

And give me a moment for every goddamn LOL on the planet to your self righteous indignation at  the suggestion that Islam condones marital rape when you then turn around and explain why a woman should have sex if she doesn’t want to SO SHE CAN STAY SAFE.  As if safety is not a fundamental human right regardless of any goddamn circumstance without all these dehumanizing conditions.

You know what’s really gut-wrenchingly hilarious (in the sense that it makes me goddamn sick to my stomach) about the stark majority of these ‘women’s rights’ claims touted by Muslim apologists like you? They are all fucking conditional, these so-called rights. Hijab up so that you don’t get harassed, raped, so you can be treated like a human being instead of a piece of meat. Get permission to marry, divorce the husband of your ‘choice’, work the job of your ‘choice’. Have fucking sex with your husband when you don’t fucking want to so you don’t get fucking beaten and cheated on and divorced. Here’s a hint: if it’s conditional it’s not a right. It’s not magnanimity or justice to conditionally grant things that are supposed to be inalienable human rights to begin with.

Let’s make something clear.  One should not have to cover her body in order to NOT be assaulted or harassed. One should not have to have sex if she doesn’t feel like it in order to NOT be yelled at, beaten,  or cheated on.

Sex agreed to in order to avoid anger and violence and holding a marriage hostage to it is not consensual sex.  It’s pretty fucked up and totally unacceptable and there’s something seriously wrong with any religious code that condones something like this, yet you someone think it’s expected, you present it is something standard in ‘any religion’.

There’s more, and all of it’s important, especially for those who are uncomfortable with that line between criticism and phobia.

One thing you may notice: religious apologists are remarkably similar the world round. And their arguments, no matter the horrible aspect of religion they’re trying to twist and defend, have a common core of ridiculousness. People are people…

Image shows a long-haired black cat with an "oh, puh-leez" expression. Caption says, "I could eat a bowl of alphabet soup and SHIT a better argument than that."

“Without Their Silence, Their Ignorance, Their Shrugging Shoulders, This Situation Could Not Continue As It Is”

Miri’s got something to say. If you haven’t heard it yet, go over there and listen. Then tap your friends on the shoulder, and point them toward it. Share it on social media. Email it around to your friends and family and casual acquaintances. The next time you hear a dude sniveling about how women see him as a predator and that’s just not faaiir, tell him to shut up and read. The next time someone in your circle of acquaintance, whether they be man, woman or gender fluid, sneers at women for taking precautions, sit them down and walk them through this paragraph by paragraph. Check for reading comprehension at the end.

Too busy for the whole thing? Set it aside. Come back to it within the next day or two. But take a moment, right now, to read at least this much:

I’m going to go out on a limb a little here and then solidify that limb as much as possible. Men who refuse to take violence against women seriously until it happens right the fuck in front of their faces are as complicit in this injustice as men who commit violence against women. This is not to say that they are as individuals just as bad or just as sexist or whatever. It just means that, without their silence, their ignorance, their shrugging shoulders, this situation could not continue as it is. It cannot continue without the participation of men who commit violence, and it cannot continue without the participation of men who shrug it off or blame the victims or accuse them of “overreacting.” Both of these are gears have to turn in order for it to continue.

If you have to watch a woman be harassed or beaten or raped or almost raped in order to care, that means that even more women must be harassed or beaten or raped or almost raped in order for you to join in the fight against violence against women. If you have to watch a woman be harassed or beaten or raped or almost raped in order to care, that means that women’s personal accounts of violence–which they have little reason to lie about but many reasons to keep silent about–aren’t enough for you. If you have to watch a woman be harassed or beaten or raped or almost raped in order to care, that means that on some level–even if you won’t admit it–you think that there’s some level of “bad enough” that this shit needs to get before you’ll even acknowledge it as a problem, let alone actually do something about it.

[snip]

But what’s it going to take for more men to actively, assertively challenge male violence against women? To shut down other men who excuse it or attempt to exonerate themselves by chanting “Not all men!” as though it were a magic spell? To refuse to support a type of masculinity that glorifies dominance and violence?

If what it takes is personally watching women being victimized by that type of masculinity, we’ve got a huge problem.

Image shows a tawny cat with sea-green eyes holding a paw curled by its face and looking very much like a put-out professor. Caption reads, "U get teh point - right?"

Don’t like women having to constantly be on guard? Do your part to make this a world in which women, trans folk, and other marginalized people can be just as carefree as most straight white dudes. Speak out. Stand up. Make a difference. Right bloody now.

Come help us create a better world.

Taking Boys Out of the Box

I didn’t like being a girl. It was harder to duck behind a tree when nature called when we were out playing in the woods. I sometimes had to do cruel things to the boys to prove I was tough as them. One of my friends wouldn’t let me play with his army men because I was a girl, and girls don’t play soldiers (I quickly disabused him of that notion, much to his astonishment).

But a lot of the time, I didn’t notice I was a girl. I was wearing pants and jumping my bike and getting in the mud and building stuff and commanding the pack, just like one of the boys.Hell, I was even more hardcore than some of them. When I crashed my bike on a road chip-sealed with cinders and road-rashed myself from toe to waist, I told ‘em I’d be right back, and hobbled home for some quick patching up. Alas, my mom decided someone with that many bleeding wounds needed to stay inside, but my friends respected the fact I hadn’t shed a tear. One of our buddies would head sobbing for home the instant he stubbed a toe. None of us wanted to be like that.

So yeah, I was usually one of the guys, which was fortunate, because there were a grand total of five girls in the entire neighborhood, none of them my age. No one had any problem with a tomboy, of course. And, outside of a few incidents like the Army Men War, no one bothered to tell me I couldn’t do something because female. Even when I went home and played with dolls, even when I prettied up my playhouse, no one thought it was odd for a girl to be a girl in boy’s clothes, mostly doing boy’s things.

The guys didn’t do girl stuff as much, but there were times when they’d come over to play dress-up, or do a nice afternoon tea with us, and my yellow Easybake Oven was one of the boys’ favorite things ever. I remember once when my one close girl friend and I were getting our nails painted by her mom, her brother wanted in on it, too. So his mom gave him a few red nails, until he got bored with manicures and wandered off.

But that was a line rarely crossed, that dividing line between girls and boys. We girls could wear anything, any time, but the boys never put on a dress outside of playing dress-up in the house. And as we all got older, they stopped doing even that. They had to hate girls, and run from our cooties, and be all tough and in to boy things like trucks. Girls were sort-of encouraged to be pretty and feminine, but we could run around in ripped jeans and ratty sneakers one day, and a dress the next. We could cross the boy-girl divide at will.

I didn’t think that was very fair, when I thought about it. Why shouldn’t the boys do the pretty clothes and makeup if they wanted? Why couldn’t they play the girlie games without getting tormented by peers and parents alike? Why couldn’t they be openly interested in girl stuff? I might have hated being a girl at times (especially after Aunty Flow made her first appearance), but I was grateful for the chameleon opportunities it gave me. People back then were great with girls doing boyish things, so I could do absolutely anything I wanted, while my boy friends were stuck on the boy side of the divide.

I think of that often, now, as the world gets ever more pinkified. I mean, for fuck’s sake, they’ve even gendered the dogs.

 

Gendered doggie toys and clothes at one of the local mega-petstores. This whole pink-and-blue obsession has gone way the fuck too far.

Gendered doggie toys and clothes at one of the local mega-petstores. This whole pink-and-blue obsession has gone way the fuck too far.

And while we’re fighting to get girls out of that box they’re being energetically stuffed in to lately, the one that says they love pink and princesses and ponies but heaven forfend they like boy colors and boys toys, we need to remember that boys are in a box, too. Libby Anne has both a son and a daughter, and she sees people trying to stuff them both in their respective boxes all the time.

“Look at him!” [Uncle Dale] said. “He’s obsessed with that train. He’s such a boy!” I frowned. I hate it when this happens. I took a deep breath.

“Actually,” I said, “When Sally was Bobby’s age, she was completely obsessed with large construction vehicles.”

Uncle Dale laughed. “How odd,” he said. His voice was dismissive.

“I don’t think it’s odd at all,” I replied. “I find that if you let kids just be kids rather than pushing them into gendered boxes their interests are generally eclectic.”

[snip]

Neither Sally nor Bobby fit in conventional gender boxes, but someone who spotted Sally playing at princesses might very well respond with “She’s such a girl!” in the same way that Uncle Dale noticed Bobby fascinated by trains and responded with “He’s such a boy.”

What’s going on here exactly? Confirmation bias.

And that hurts girls, but boys have it bad, too. They’re not encouraged to play with dolls, put on makeup, stomp in high heels (unless their mom is as awesome as Libby Anne). If a girl crosses the divide, she often gets forced back into the girl box, but there are plenty of people cheering her on, encouraging her to break out again. Boys who try to cross, though – society loves to belittle them, be horrified by them, call them gay, tell them to man up. We need to fight to get them out of the box, too. We need to have a response ready when society tells them they’d better toe the masculine line.

We need so much more of that. Kids don’t need this gendered crap. Neither do adults. Let people be people. Erase the lines. Let the girls put on the firefighter’s outfit. Let the boys wear ballgowns. Let’s strive for a world where no one’s trapped in a gendered box.

And the next time you see a child crossing the divide, tell them they’re wonderful.

Why I Would Wish Religion Away

Many folks seemed to think I was being a bit naive, thinking religion to be at the root of many of our problems. Problems would remain, they protested. Religion doesn’t cause them all.

I’m completely aware of that. I’d hoped this sentence would prevent misunderstandings:

When we go chasing after invisible gods, all of our worst human tendencies remain, but are given God’s stamp of approval.

I obviously should have done a better job at clarifying that I didn’t think our problems would magically vanish once religion was gone. Let me do so now:

Humans are shits. We can be right arseholes to each other. Excise religion, and humans would still be shits.  Atheists are right arseholes to each other all the time.

But.

But.

They can’t claim divine sanction for their arseholery. They can’t shut down criticism and condemnation by saying, “God says I’m not a shit. Look, he says to do this arsehole thing. Right here! It says, ‘Do this arsehole thing or you will go to hell.’ So this shitty arsehole thing I’m doing is good and just because God told me to do it, and no one can argue with that, because God.”

They can’t get society to accept their arsehole behavior as being sacrosanct, their religious right, and they can’t terrify people into going along by threatening them with hellfire and damnation if they don’t.

Look, without religion, shit parents would still abuse their kids. But they wouldn’t write books about beating kids into submission because God says to beat ‘em with a stick or else. They wouldn’t have the power to convince non-abusing, loving parents they must beat even their babies if they want their kids to avoid hell.

Image is a black background. A cross, a crescent moon and star, and a Star of David are all within crossed-out circles at top. Caption says, "Morality is doing what is right regardless of what you are told. Religion is doing what you are told regardless of what is right."

Without religion, I doubt very much we’d have these lingering hangups about homosexuality. Certain types of men might still try to impose patriarchal authority, but without a holy book saying obey or burn, that this is what God wants, I doubt very much that many people would be eager to go along.

Without the promise of a reward in the afterlife, I’ll bet you cash money that more people would make this life better. They’d realize this is all we’ve got: this world, this life, and each other. No God is going to protect us here and give us glory once we’re dead.

We wouldn’t have people trying to cripple science education for religious reasons. The bizarre alternate universe we’ve been exploring in our Christianist textbooks certainly wouldn’t exist. People wouldn’t have to discount the overwhelming evidence of an old Earth with life evolving via natural processes with no divine intervention. They wouldn’t have Ken Ham’s biblical glasses or his stubborn belief that a bit of ancient poetry is scientific truth, evidence be damned.

I think we’d be much more flexible, better able to weigh evidence, explore reality, and change our minds when warranted. We wouldn’t go centuries or millennia kicking and screaming against good ideas, because there wouldn’t be this god-belief standing in the way.

I’m not saying we’d suddenly be perfect. Just better. I think there would be less strife, and fewer people easy to con. Doubtless, we’d find ways to do stupid shit and make bad choices. Sometimes (often), we’d let our thinking get lazy and end up doing some spectacularly wrong stuff. We’re human. We’re the result of evolutionary tinkering, and we know evolution doesn’t have any way of ensuring high-quality results. We have brains that come up with ridiculous notions and silly ideas and get duped and dizzy and frequently misfire. Removing religion won’t fix that.

But without religion, we wouldn’t make our worst ideas, impulses, and mistakes sacred.

We’d have no authority higher than humanity to rely on to shore up our worst traits. We couldn’t shut down debate by pointing to heaven.

Does anyone want to make the argument that a world without religion would be worse than what we’ve got?

Don’t you think we could do better without?

Image shows a twilight sky with stars, a silhouette of a person holding out hands and looking like they're holding two very bright stars. Caption says, "Some believers accuse skeptics of having nothing left but a dull, cold, scientific world. I am left only with art, music, literature, theater, the magnificence of nature, mathematics, the human spirit, sex, the cosmos, friendship, history, science, imagination, dreams, oceans, mountains, love, and the wonder of birth. That'll do for me. -Lynne Kelly"

Lynne Kelly via Science Memebase.

Some Helpful Illustrations for the Willfully Obtuse

It seems that despite many patient and helpful explanations over the years, some fanchildren in our community (and others) are still quite confused. They keep mistaking our social media spaces for  courtrooms and discussions for trials. Since reading comprehension would appear to be absent from their Skeptical Toolkit, perhaps some illustrations may be of assistance.

This is a courthouse:

Graham County Courthouse, Safford, Arizona. Image and caption by Ken Lund via Flickr. (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Graham County Courthouse, Safford, Arizona. Image and caption by Ken Lund via Flickr. (CC BY-SA 2.0)

In this building, you will find things like judges, juries, and lawyers. This is where people go when they are suing or prosecuting someone.

These are social media spaces:

Social media logos for Twitter, G+, Reddit, Facebook, YouTube, Blogger, Pinterest, and WordPress.

Social media logos for Twitter, G+, Reddit, Facebook, YouTube, Blogger, Pinterest, and WordPress.

These are places where people go to informally discuss things. You may find judges, jurors, and lawyers talking within them, but they are not there in their official capacity. People are having conversations, not giving sworn testimony.

This is a judge:

Image is a baliff handing a judge some papers.

Judge Betty Lou Lamoreaux, 1980. Photo courtesy Orange County Archives.

A judge has to remain impartial because they are presiding over a legal proceeding.

This is an ordinary person:

Image is a young man smiling at the camera, leaning against something that rather looks like the inside of a wooden ship.

Sunlight stripes @ Henderson Wave Bridge. Image by Jason D’ Great via Flickr. (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Ordinary people can be judgmental, but they are not actual judges. They don’t have to remain impartial because they are not presiding over a legal proceeding, and cannot sentence someone to prison if they think that person is guilty.

This is a trial:

Image is a lawyer and witness on the witness stand. The witness is looking at some papers she is showing him.

An attorney impeaching a witness during a mock trial competition. Photo and caption by Eric Chan via Wikimedia Commons/Flickr. (CC BY 2.0)

There are legal rules to follow because it is a legal proceeding. In a trial, there are things like rules of evidence and admissibility and stuff, because it is the power of the state against a person.

This is a conversation or discussion:

Image is a silhouette of many people talking.

Conversation by OUTography via Flickr. (CC BY 2.0)

Conversations and discussions are informal and do not have the force of testimony. Legal rules such as rules of evidence do not have to be followed because the people talking are not representing the state, and are not making determinations that will have the force of law.

Perhaps the above illustrations will help the terminally obtuse figure out where and when legal rules should be followed, and where and when less formal standards are expected.

Additionally, for those who still haven’t figured out the difference between a convention and a courtroom, allow me to add the following:

This is a hotel:

Image is a courtyard at the Hotel Miramar.

Hotel Miramar by Son of Groucho via Flickr.

This is where people go to attend conventions. Most people who go to conventions don’t want to be creeped on, and thus have a tendency to avoid creeps. This is called “freedom of association.” It is a right that everyone has. Calling someone a creep and telling other people who want to avoid creeps whom they may wish to avoid is not the same as going to a courthouse and prosecuting someone.

These are police officers:

Image shows several police officers standing around the open back of a police van.

Police officers making an arrest. Photo by Andrew Feinberg via Flickr. (CC BY-SA 2.0)

These are the people who will arrest you if you are suspected of doing something illegal and are going to be put in jail. They will do things like read you your rights, because they are law enforcement officials.

This is a security guard:

Image is a man in a uniform with a neon vest that says Security.

Goddard Security Guard. Photo by NASA/GSFC/Mark T. Hubbard via Flickr. (CC BY 2.0)

This is who will throw your ass out of the hotel if you are violating the convention policies and upsetting other guests. They won’t read you your rights, because they are not law enforcement officers who are taking you to jail.