“An Actual Lesbian Girlfriend,” Or, Why You Should Never Listen to Dan Savage About Bisexuality: The Blowfish Blog

BisexualityI have a new piece up on the Blowfish Blog. It’s about a recent sex advice column by Dan Savage: a writer who I usually like and respect, but who gets it wildly and insultingly wrong about bisexuals (a pattern he’s had for as long as I’ve been reading him, and one that makes me want to tear my hair out).

The piece is called “An Actual Lesbian Girlfriend,” Or, Why You Should Never Listen to Dan Savage About Bisexuality, and here’s the teaser:

In a recent column, Savage compiled a sampler of questions from students on his recent tour of universities. And among them was this question:

“I’m a lesbian, and my girlfriend is bisexual and wants to have a three-way with a man. This makes me nervous. What should I do?”

Savage’s advice?

“Get yourself a refillable Xanax prescription, or get yourself an actual lesbian girlfriend.”

WTF?!?

This advice is so irresponsible it made my jaw drop. But because the advice is so terse — and because the snark- to- content ratio is so disproportionately high — it’s a little hard to tease out its actual content, and the actual intent behind it. Near as I can tell, though, it seems to be one of the following three things. All of which suck.

To find out what I think Savage might be trying to say here — and why I think it sucks — read the rest of the piece. Enjoy!

Commenting Trouble?

A couple of people have emailed me saying they’re having trouble commenting on my blog. It’s obviously not a bniversal problem, but it’s happening enough that it’s clearly not an isolated incident, either. I’m trying to get a clear picture of what’s happening, and under what circumstances, so I can let Typepad know and see if they can fix it.

So if you’re having trouble commenting on my blog, please email me, at greta at gretachristina dot com. Let me know, in as much detail as you can, what exactly happened. Did you get the “captcha check” screen that makes you type in a code before your comment is posted? Did your comment include any HTML? Have you been able to comment on my blog in the past? What machine are you using, and what browser? Let me know, and I’ll see if I can get this handled. Sorry for any inconvenience!

Curiosity and the “Shut Up, That’s Why” Argument

Silence means securityLast week, I talked about the insidious assortment of “Shut up, that’s why” arguments that get made against atheists and atheism.

Today, I want to talk about where I think the “Shut up, that’s why” arguments come from.

There was a story on “This American Life” last week that hit me really strongly. It wasn’t about atheism, but I think it cuts to the heart of the “Shut up, that’s why” argument, so I’m going to sum it up here quickly, to show you what I’m talking about.

The story was about a family with a family legend. The grandfather of the family had been lost on a camping trip when he was a child, but was recovered eight months later, from (the legend said) the itinerant tinker who had kidnapped him. One of the granddaughters became intensely curious about this legend, and started doing research to find out more about the story — a story that had been widely reported in many newspapers, and which even had a folk song written about it.

DigBut the more she dug, the more oddities and inconsistencies she found in the story, as reported by both the papers and the legend. In particular, there was another woman who had claimed that the kidnapped child was really hers. Her offspring also had a family legend: the legend of the kidnapped child, who, through a travesty of justice, wound up being given to another family. Long story short: The more the granddaughter dug, the more she realized that this other woman’s claims had merit. Every piece of solid evidence seemed to confirm it. Eventually she had DNA testing done… and found that, in fact, this other woman was right. Whether consciously, or un-, or some combination of the two, her great- grandparents had taken her grandfather from his real mother.

And the granddaughter’s family was furious.

At her. For digging this story up.

They didn’t want to know the truth. Seriously, passionately, entirely consciously — they didn’t want to know. They said as much. Many of them refused to accept it, despite an insurmountable body of evidence. And it caused a great family schism, with many members of the family barely speaking to the woman who had uncovered the difficult truth.

Do you see where I’m going with this?

Question mark brainHere’s what struck me about this story. When Ingrid and I were talking about it, both of us were utterly baffled at the family members who didn’t want to know the truth. It’s not that we couldn’t grasp the “not wanting to know” concept. We’ve both had icky “I didn’t want to know that” experiences, things we’ve learned about friends or colleagues that didn’t enrich our lives and that just made things difficult. We got that. But we didn’t get how, once you knew that there was a mystery, you could just let it go. We understood how you could fool yourself unconsciously — that’s just human nature, we all do it — but we didn’t understand how you could fool yourself consciously. For both of us, knowing that there was a big unanswered question that might have a complex and difficult answer… that would eat away at us, way, way more than the complex and difficult answer itself.

Silence 3I think there are two kinds of people. (Okay, that’s a gross oversimplification. It’s more like all people have two personality traits, and some of us have more of one, and some have more of the other. But for simplicity’s sake, let’s call that “two kinds of people” for now.) There are people who are content and want to stay that way; people who don’t want conflict or upset; people who want a peaceful life in which everybody gets along… and if that means you don’t talk about certain things or ask certain questions, they consider that a fair price. People who, like Slartibartfast, would rather be happy than right.

And there are people who, once curiosity bites us, cannot shake it.

Now, although it may sound like it, I’m not actually saying that one type is inherently better than the other. Obviously, I’m more the stubbornly curious type, and I’m strongly biased in that direction. But I can see the value in both. It may well be that the human race needs both. I have a lot of the “diplomat/ reconciler/ seeing both sides/ trying to defuse conflict” personality in me too, and I think that’s important — without it, we’d all be at each other’s throats constantly.

Zodiac_movieAnd unshakeable curiosity can be a very mixed blessing. Not just because it can stir shit up and alienate people, either. It can be a mixed blessing because sometimes it’s a dead end. Ask any true crime aficionado: detectives or reporters with unsolved cases can be driven mad by them.

So I’m not trying to say, “Atheists are better than theists.”

What I’m saying is this:

I think this is one of the reasons that conversations between atheists and theists can get so difficult.

I think that, when we argue with theists, atheists tend to assume that of course theists want to know the truth. Of course they want to follow the God question to its logical conclusion. Don’t they? The question of whether God does or does not exist is a huge one, with enormous consequences in how we live our lives and how we understand the world. Who doesn’t want to understand the world as well and as clearly as they can?

And I think — this is more of a stretch, since I don’t quite grasp this mindset or what it feels like — but I think that theists tend to assume that of course atheists are looking for a worldview that they find appealing and useful, rather than one that they find consistent and plausible. I think that many theists really don’t get why atheists would rather be right than happy. (Not that we’re not happy… but you know what I mean.) Who doesn’t want a peaceful life of contentment?

See no evilLook at the “Shut up, that’s why” arguments I talked about last week. “Atheists are so whiny.” “Atheists think they’re so smart.” “Atheists keep talking about atheism and expecting us to care about it, but we don’t, and other things are more important.” “This is private business, and it’s not nice to talk about it or to argue with people about it.” “This isn’t about arguments and evidence, anyway. “”We’re sick of hearing about it.” “Why do they care so much what other people believe?” “Can’t we all just get along?”

What else are these but arguments for getting along, over insatiable curiosity?

And look at how theists react when they debate atheists. I can’t be the only atheist who’s had this experience: theists start off debating us, all excited and revved up and proud of themselves for their open-minded willingness to engage with the atheists and question their own faith… and, as the debate wears on, they get increasingly unhappy, and upset, and angry. Anger that gets aimed at us. It’s always baffled me. I’m like, “But you said you wanted to debate this! Don’t you?”

The answer is no. They don’t. They want to want to debate it. They want to be the kind of person who wants to debate it. They want to be the insatiable curiosity type, the intellectually courageous type who will ask any question and follow the answers wherever they lead. But they’re not. Not when it comes to God.

FaithI’m not saying that all theists are incurious sheep. Far from it. But I do think that — when it comes to the God question, at least — theists are willing to take their investigations only so far, and no further. Some won’t take it more than a step or two, as you see with hardcore young- earth creationist fundies who won’t even consider the possibility that their 5,000 year old book might be mistaken in one or two places. Some will take it very far indeed, as you see with some modern theologians who make better arguments for atheism than a lot of atheists… but then can’t quite take that final step. (And obviously, there are theists who do take that final step, and become atheists.) But the unwillingness to follow this question to its logical conclusion seems to be a hallmark of religion. I mean, isn’t that the very definition of religious faith — believing in God, even when all the evidence and arguments are telling you not to believe?

MuleAnd I do think that atheists — at least, the ones who once had religious belief and left it behind — tend to have that stubbornness, that unwillingness to just let things slide, that dogged determination once we get our minds around a question to take it as far as it goes, wherever it goes, even if it goes somewhere that freaks us the fuck out. When it comes to the God question, at least.

So I think when atheists and theists debate, we’re often debating at cross purposes. We’re assuming that we have the same goals. And often we don’t. Often in a discussion or a debate, the atheist’s goal is in direct conflict with the believer’s goal. And I don’t just mean the obvious goal of “persuade this person that religion is right/ persuade this person that atheism is right.” The goal of relentlessly pursuing a difficult question to its logical conclusion is often in direct conflict with the goal of keeping things peaceful, content, and on an even keel.

And I think this explains the “blame the messenger” quality that defines so many theist/ atheist debates. If you think that the goal of a conversation is to pursue the truth as far as you possibly can, then blaming the messenger makes no sense. But if you think that the goal of a conversation is to resolve conflict and return society to the status quo, then relentlessly curious messengers are to blame. (It also explains the feeling I’ve sometimes had, one that other atheists have said they’ve had: the feeling of being a killjoy, the rain god on everybody’s parade.)

I’m not quite sure where I’m going with this. I’m not sure where the solution might lie; if anyone has any thoughts on that, I’d love to hear them. But two things are coming to mind.

SafetynetOne is that atheists need to be better about making atheism a safe place to land. We need to make it clear that being an atheist doesn’t mean being dissatisfied, restless, and constantly at odds with everyone around you. We need to make it clear that atheists can not only have happy lives, and meaningful lives, but calm and peaceful lives.

The other is that atheists need to keep the conversation going: not just so we can persuade more people, but so the conversation itself can become more normal.

ConversationRight now, I think one of the reasons these debates are so fraught and divisive is that, for a lot of people, the ideas in them are so new. If we keep the conversation going, in both the public sphere and our private lives, I think the flavor of it is likely to shift: from a shocking assault on people’s most fundamental values, to an ongoing family argument that everyone’s a little tired of but that everyone’s familiar with. The cat will be well and truly out of the bag. And the attempts to stop the discussion with “Shut up, that’s why” arguments will become increasingly pointless and irrelevant.

Thoughts?

25 Things About My Sexuality

Please note: This post includes extensive and detailed descriptions of my personal sex life. Family members and others who don’t want to read about that stuff are advised to stay as far away from this one as possible.

Night_Speed_25_sign.svgThere’s this blog. Sort of an anonymous confessional/ revelation blog about sex. You write in, telling 25 things about your sexuality — hence the name of the blog, 25 Things About My Sexuality — and they post it confidentially. (My boss told me about it, thinking — rightly so — that I’d be interested. Sometimes I really like my job.)

But I didn’t see any reason to do it anonymously. (Although, to be honest, my list would have looked somewhat different if I were posting it to an anonymous blog…)

So here, in no particular order, are 25 things about my sexuality. If you want to play, you can do so on the 25 Things blog… or you can do it on your own blog and post a link here if you like… or you can do it in a comment here, as long as you keep it reasonably concise. (More concise than I did, at any rate.)

FYI: If this seems more focused on my sexual history and my mental and emotional sex life rather than my current physical sex life, there’s a reason for that. I respect Ingrid’s privacy and don’t like revealing too much about our sex life together; so I’m focusing on those parts of my sexuality that I can reveal without violating her privacy.

[Read more…]

Greta at WonderCon Panel on Queer Women in Comics, Sat. Feb. 28

WonderconLogo_170Hi, all. If you’re going to be at the WonderCon comics convention in San Francisco this weekend, come by and see me. I’m going to be part of a panel discussion on Queer Women in Comics, along with Paige Braddock, Joey Alison Sayers, and Leia Weathington. Here’s the whole spiel on the panel:

Queer Women in Comics: You think Alison Bechdel (Fun Home, Dykes to Watch Out For) is one of a kind? We know she’s unique, but there are lots of other queer women working in comics. Paige Braddock (Jane’s World), Greta Christina (Best Erotic Comics), Joey Alison Sayers (Thingpart), and Leia Weathington (Bold Riley) present a spirited discussion of what it means to be lesbian, bi-female and transgendered in comics today. Moderated by Patty Jeres, Prism Comics board co-president. Saturday, Feb. 28, 1:30 – 2:30, Room 220.

WonderCon will be at Moscone Center South in San Francisco, February 27 through March 1. Other events being hosted by Prism Comics include The Birth of “Gay Comix,” Friday, February 27, 5:30 – 6:30 pm, in Room 236-238; and Self-Publishing Queer Comics, on Sunday, March 1, 2:00 – 3:00pm, in Room 220-224. See you there! And if you come to the panel, come by afterward and say hi! I always like to meet my blog readers. Especially when they’re in costume.

Craig’s List Porn: The Blowfish Blog

CraigslistPlease note: This post, and the post it links to, includes descriptions of my personal sex life, including my personal tastes in porn. Family members and others who don’t want to read that, please don’t.

Hi, all! I’m back from the wedding, and am finally almost caught up on my sleep. I’ll blog about the wedding as soon as I get pictures from it; and I should have a new original post up here soon.

In the meantime: I have a new piece up on the Blowfish Blog! It’s about an odd source of erotica that I’ve becoming mildly obsessed with: namely, the Craig’s List Casual Encounters ads. The piece is called Craig’s List Porn, and here’s the teaser:

I’m finding this interest of mine a little puzzling. I mean, it’s not like the ads, as porn, are all that high- quality. Boy, howdy, are they not. If I were reviewing them as a porn critic, I’d be merciless. They make all the mistakes that bad amateur porn makes (and bad pro porn, for that matter): they’re full of cliches, they tend to be either too terse or too florid, they either over- describe the physical action or don’t describe it enough. And they — how shall I put this? — fail to grasp what it is about the sex they’re describing that might grab the attention of the reader and make her want to find out more. Not all of them — I’ve seen a few that I’d give a “keep working, this has potential” to if they showed up in a porn- writing class — but mostly.

(snip)

But when I’m looking for fantasy material, I still find myself drawn to them again and again. They’re certainly not my Number One source of free online porn (right now that would be SpankingTube), but it’s one I keep coming back to.

And I’m trying to figure out why.

To find out what it is about this poorly- written grab bag that makes it such compelling fantasy material, read the rest of the piece. Enjoy!

Brief Blog Break, Plus Shameless Self- Promotion Op, a Fun Game, and Blog Carnivals

Wedding ringsI’m going to be out of town for a few days, officiating at the wedding of my friends Chip and Hayley. I’m bringing my computer and will check in on the blog now and then, but it’s unlikely that I’ll have time to post anything new until after I get back. Don’t expect anything new here until Monday or Tuesday.

In the meantime, why don’t y’all use this post for some shameless self- promotion. If you want to plug your blog — either a particular post or just your blog in general — here and now is the place and time to do it. Or if you have a project you’re working on that you want to tell the other readers here about — or there’s a post on another blog that you think is keen and want to plug — you can do that as well.

There’s also a fun contest over at Friendly Atheist that you might want to check out. The rules: Replace any word from the title of, or a line from, a book about atheism… with the word “Pants.” (Example from one of my own submissions: “Pants: The Failed Hypothesis.”) Winners will get a nifty Friendly Atheist bracelet. And just reading the submissions so far is about twenty five hoots.

Finally — blog carnivals!

CarnivalHumanist Symposium #32 at A Superfluous Ramble.

Carnival of the Godless #110 at The Greenbelt.

Carnival of the Liberals #84, at Submitted to a Candid World.

And Skeptic’s Circle #105, at It’s the Thought that Counts.

That ought to keep you busy while I’m gone. Have fun, and I’ll see you soon!

“Milk” and the Joy of Sex

Since the Oscars are coming up, and “Milk” has been nominated for eight of them, now seems like a good time to run this piece here. This piece was originally published on the Blowfish Blog.

Milk-movie-posterI realize this may come across like the welder’s review of “Flashdance.” But today, this sex writer wants to talk about the depiction of sex in “Milk.”

Because it was so strikingly different from the way sex gets depicted in almost every major Hollywood movie.

Not just different. Better. Way, way better.

You’ve no doubt heard about “Milk,” the new biopic about the history- making San Francisco gay activist and city supervisor Harvey Milk, directed by Gus Van Sant and starring Sean Penn. If you haven’t already seen it, you’ve probably heard that it’s brilliant, that it’s inspiring and moving and tear- jerking and funny, that Penn’s performance is nothing short of astounding. All of which is true.

But today, just for a change, I want to talk about sex.

See, unlike most Hollywood movies about gay people, the sex in “Milk” is not downplayed. It gets a starring role. And unlike most Hollywood movies, period, sex is treated, not as a joke, not as a source of easy fearmongering and/or cheap titillation, not even as a source of dramatic angst and despair a la “Brokeback Mountain,” but as a source of joy and liberation, a central part of a human life, worthy of value and respect.

(Warning: Spoiler alert. Spoilers are all over this review like a cheap suit.)

Milk and smithThe story begins with Harvey (Sean Penn) meeting his soon- to- be lover, Scott Smith (James Franco). And they don’t meet cute. They don’t meet by fighting over the last chocolate cake at the bakery, or accidentally getting each other’s dry cleaning, or being stuck together on a cross- country car trip. They meet when Harvey hits on Scott in a New York subway station and takes him home to fuck. (Well, I guess that’s sort of meeting cute…)

The pick-up is a bittersweet scene in some ways. Harvey is a buttoned-down, closeted, middle-aged gay man who’s turning 40 that day, and the hip, dishy Scott at first treats his advances with skepticism and disdain. But the pick-up is also a sexy and funny and joyful scene. And the pick-up turns into a real relationship, with the couple moving across the country to San Francisco together and soon launching Harvey’s political career.

Lesson: Sex can spark love, and sex can change lives.

What’s more, the reality of casual sex in the gay male community of the 1970s is handled with a rare and delightful combination: an attitude of laughing appreciation, and an attitude of “No big deal.” It’s not shoved behind the curtains like a dirty secret; it’s not luridly flaunted for the audience to simultaneously leer and condemn. It’s folded into the story as smoothly and as naturally as spices being folded into batter.

Milk and jones 2Important political alliances are started with guys flirting and trying to pick each other up. A meeting with a major gay publisher is accented with Harvey’s lover swimming naked in the man’s pool. Two men celebrate a major political victory by blowing each other in a broom closet. And the topic of bars and bathhouses and the anonymous sex that happens therein is woven into the dialog as casually and unapologetically as the topic of jazz in “Some Like it Hot,” or the topic of spaceships in “Star Wars.” It is acknowledged as a potential political liability, to be sure… but it’s never treated as something to be ashamed of.

Lesson: This is a community, and a movement, that is built largely around sex and sexual liberation. And hooray for that.

As for the sex itself… well, there’s not a huge amount of it. But when it’s there, there’s no turning away from it. It’s not explicit, there’s no full-frontal or anything. But it’s lusty, and it’s physical, and there’s no mistaking it for anything else.

Lesson: Sex is sex. It’s real, it’s a part of life, and it’s pointless to ignore it or pretend that it’s anything other than what it is.

Milk and whiteFinally, the contrast between the loving, joyful, full- of- laughter life of Harvey Milk and the tight, drab, out- of- touch life of his fellow supervisor and eventual assassin Dan White (Josh Brolin) is made vividly clear. And it’s presented largely as a contrast between sexual repression and sexual liberation.

White’s resentment of Milk is complicated, of course. His political resentment of Milk’s freethinking politics and rapidly rising fortunes, his personal resentment of Milk’s popularity and perceived betrayal, are all probably more crucial than the sexual issues. But a key factor in his hostility and creepy fixation with Milk — as depicted in this movie, anyway — is sex. His bafflement and revulsion with the sexual libertinism of 1970s San Francisco, his envy of same, possibly even his own repressed homosexual desires… all of these converge into a toxic mess that focuses onto Milk and culminates in murder and eventual suicide.

Lesson: Sexual repression destroys. Literally.

Milk in carI’m not sure where I’m going with this. I think I’m just trying to say: You have to see “Milk.” Not just because it’s brilliant and insightful and beautifully- made. If you’re at all interested in sexuality — in the history of sexual liberation, or the influence of sex on political and social history, or the depictions of sex in popular culture — you have to see “Milk.”

Trust me on this one.

I’m Number 10!

Ontario_10.svgI’m Number 10!

This is kind of surprising and neat.

A little while back, Daniel Florien of the Unreasonable Faith blog came up with a list of his top 30 atheist/ agnostic/ skeptic blogs… and I made the list. I was honored and flattered (thanks, Daniel!), but I didn’t mention it here, since “Hey! Some other blogger thinks I’m cool!” was a little too much tooting of my own horn even for me.

But inspired by this, Hemant Mehta of Friendly Atheist decided to come up with a list of the top 30 atheist blogs… based not on his own subjective preferences, but on an analysis of five different objective metrics measuring a blog’s popularity (Alexa Rankings, Google PageRank, Google Reader Subscribers, Technorati Authority, and Technorati InLinks).

And I’m in the Top 10.

#10, to be precise.

Now, I’m not a statistician, and I don’t know how accurate this measuring system is. (Hemant’s a math teacher, so it’s probably not completely wack…) I do suspect that the results may be somewhat skewed by Atheists and Anger, since a lot of these metrics measure how often a blog is linked to… and everyone and their great- aunt Martha seems to have linked to that post.

Hand_count_10But I am tickled pink to even be on this list. The idea that I might even conceivably be in the Top Ten? By any sort of objective measurement? It’s kind of freaking me out. In a good way.

One of the top ten atheist blogs in the blogosphere. That’ll look good on my writer’s resume. Neat!

Atheism and the “Shut Up, That’s Why” Arguments

There’s something I’ve been noticing lately in theists’ arguments against atheists. When you start paying attention, you notice how many of them aren’t really arguments. And no, I’m not even talking about the “I feel it in my heart” or “‘Cause the Bible tells me so” non-arguments.

Silence means securityI’m talking about the “Shut up, that’s why” arguments. I’m talking about the arguments that are meant to stop the discussion entirely. I’m talking about the arguments whose main purpose is to try to get atheists to stop making their arguments.

I talked about a couple of these in my recent 10 Myths and Truths About Atheists piece that I wrote for AlterNet. You know, one of the interesting things about writing for AlterNet is that it exposes me to, shall we say, a wider variety of thought processes than my own mostly well- mannered little blog does. (From atheists as well as theists.) In particular, I was a little surprised, given how clear I thought I’d been on why “Shut up, that’s why” arguments are an unfair and unreasonable form of anti-atheist bigotry, at how many people in the comments went ahead and made those arguments anyway. In a fascinating variety of forms. It was quite an opportunity to study the species in its native habitat.

The thing about the “Shut up, that’s why” arguments is that many of them can seem reasonable on the surface. They’re slippery, not actual direct arguments. It can take some attention to see what exactly is wrong with them.

So I want to go through the “Shut up, that’s why” arguments and show how they’re designed, not to move the discussion forward, but to shut it down.

For the record, I’m going to leave out the more obvious and heavy- handed versions of “Shut up, that’s why.” Like calling us inherently immoral, or accusing us of the worst war crimes in history, or ostracizing/ jailing/ beating/ killing people for being atheists. But if there are any other than those that I’ve missed, please speak up in the comments.

Financial_crisisDon’t you have anything better to do? Why do you keep talking about atheism when (the economy is tanking, there are wars, people are being tortured, the planet is overheating, etc.)? How can you think this is important? Why do you expect anyone to pay attention to it?

Ah, yes. This is what I call the “How can you talk about blowjobs when people are dying in Darfur?” argument.

Okay. First of all, A: People are multi-faceted. We can think about, and talk about, many different things at once. We can talk about global warming, and cute cats. We can talk about Afghanistan, and the history of surrealism. And we can talk about the tanking economy, and whether or not God exists. Not everything we talk about has to be the Major Social Issue of the Day. If we only ever talked about the terrible state of the world, our heads would explode. We need a little variety.

But more to the point, B:

Atheists think religion is a major social issue. Atheists — many of us, anyway — think religion is one of the major sources of social upheaval on the planet. From sex and science education in the U.S. public schools, to the violence and chaos in the Middle East, we think a lot of what’s terribly wrong with the world would be better — not perfect, but better — without religion.

This isn’t trivial. Treating it as trivial is just an attempt to get us to shut up.

PrayerReligion is based on faith, not reason. It exists in a different realm from science and politics and such, and it’s not fair to expect it to compete on the same level. (A.k.a., non-overlapping magisteria.)

Yeah. See, here’s the problem with that.

If you believe in a God who acts on the world, then that’s not a different realm. That’s this realm. The realm of cause and effect. The one we’re living in.

And if you believe in a God who created the world but doesn’t act on it… well, who cares? Technically that’s not atheism, but in any practical sense it might as well be.

Here’s the interesting thing. Before we knew as much about the world as we do now, religious teachers loved to point to evidence in the world as proof of God’s existence. Now that we have much better explanations for the world than God, all of a sudden they’re saying that it’s unfair to expect religious believers to give evidence for their beliefs.

The “it’s unfair to expect religion to make its case” trope is just a way of trying to stop atheists from making our case. (Plus it’s a distraction from the fact that believers really don’t have one.) It’s just an attempt to get us to shut up.

Election map.svgWhy do you care what other people believe?

Why do Democrats care what Republicans believe? And vice versa? Why do social democrat types care what free market freaks believe, and vice versa? Why do gay rights activists care what anti- gay- rights activists believe, and vice versa?

Atheists care what believers believe, because people act on their beliefs. Beliefs have consequences in the real world. And that includes religious beliefs.

To ask atheists to ignore what believers believe, even though it has an enormous impact on our lives and everybody else’s lives, is just an attempt to get us to shut up.

Silence equals deathReligion is personal and private. I don’t see why we have to talk about this.

Funny. The same thing was said about gay people, and gay sexuality, when the gay rights movement was becoming visible. It was meant to shut up gay people, the exact same way it’s meant to shut up atheists.

And I’ll say pretty much what LGBT people have been saying on this topic:

Religious believers have been parading their beliefs in public for millennia. It is the height of hypocrisy for religious believers to ask atheists — now that we’re finally getting some traction — to keep our lack of belief private. It’s just an attempt to get us to shut up.

Nixon kennedy debateAtheists are so superior. They act like they’re so much smarter than believers, and they think they’re right about everything.

Right. Unlike anybody else who’s making a case.

When it comes to the question of whether or not God exists… yes, atheists think we’re right. We don’t think we can prove our case with 100% certainty — you almost never can about any case, especially when you’d need prove a negative to do so. But we think both evidence and logic are overwhelmingly in our favor, and we think we can made a pretty darned good case for our side.

And making a case is not the same as thinking you’re superior.

There’s a huge difference between thinking you’re better than people you disagree with… and thinking that, on one particular issue, you’re correct, and people who disagree are mistaken. Thinking you’re right, and trying to convince people you’re right… that’s not arrogance. That’s the marketplace of ideas.

Question markYou know what? If I’m not right? Prove me wrong. I’ll let you in on a not- so- secret secret: Every time I see an argument for religion, for just a microsecond, I wonder if it’s right. I wonder, “Could this be the argument that’ll convince me?” It never is — in fact, those microseconds are getting shorter and shorter, as I’ve now seen about eighty thousand arguments for God, all of which suck — but I always wonder. I’m open to the possibility that I might be wrong. I just don’t think I am.

To accuse atheists of acting superior for speaking out and making our case… that’s just a way of trying to stop us from speaking out and making our case. It’s just an attempt to get us to shut up.

ScreamAtheists are so whiny.

Yes. It’s so whiny of us to speak out about our opinions and experiences. It’s so whiny of us to speak out about the terrible harm and oppression that religious believers inflict on one another, and have been for thousands of years. And it’s so whiny of us to speak out when we’re discriminated against, or when people spread hateful and deceitful lies about us.

Do I even need to explain why this one is a “Shut up, that’s why?” argument?

SleepingI’m so tired of hearing about atheism. Can’t you give it a rest?

You know, it’s not like we’re standing outside your door at 3 a.m. with bullhorns. You can read other blog articles. Change the station on your radio or TV. Flip to another page in your newspaper or magazine. Browse in another section of the bookstore.

And you know what? I’m sick of hearing about religion. I’ve been getting religion shoved down my throat for as long as I can remember. That hasn’t stopped anybody from talking about it. And it shouldn’t. People should talk about the things that they care about. Believers do. Why shouldn’t atheists?

This is “Shut up, that’s why” in its purest, most direct form. (Apart from actually killing people or putting them in jail, of course.)

And finally, the most frustrating “Shut up, that’s why” argument of them all:

Circle holding handsCan’t we just get along? Can’t we agree to disagree? Neither of us can prove our side with 100% certainty, so there’s no point in even having this discussion. Can’t we just live and let live?

This is a tough one… since it makes the believer seem reasonable and tolerant and nice, and the atheist seem like a churlish jerk. I mean, what are atheists supposed to say? “No, we can’t just agree to disagree”? “No, we can’t just live and let live”? “No, we can’t just drop it — we’re going to keep picking this fight every chance we get”?

But there are two enormous problems with this sweet, tolerant, almost certainly well- intentioned version of “Shut up, that’s why.”

AmericanfascistsThe first and most obvious problem is: We are not being left alone. We are not being let to live. (Allowed to live? Left to live? Boy, “live and let live” is a hard phrase to recast.) Religious believers everywhere are treating atheists like dirt. And they’re treating other believers like dirt. If you’re not personally doing that, then good for you… but is that really reason enough for us to stop speaking out against bigotry against us? Do you really think the hard-core atheist- hating fundies are going to suddenly become sweet and nice if only the atheists would back off?

If the only religion in the world were tolerant, ecumenical, understanding, and supportive of the notion that people with different beliefs can be good people… I think most atheists wouldn’t care very much about it. But that’s not the world we live in. At the risk of sounding like a third- grader: You started it.

Second — more subtly, but in my mind equally important:

Armor_1The idea that it’s bad to criticize or question religion is, in the atheist view, one of the most pernicious pieces of armor that religion has mounted against legitimate criticism.

Again, atheists see religion as just another hypothesis about how the world works and why it is the way it is. We don’t see any reason not to ask hard questions about it. In a free society, we all get to ask hard questions about scientific theories, political opinions, public policies. Hell, we ask hard questions about restaurants and dog breeding and reality show contestants. Why should religion be different? In the marketplace of ideas, why should religion get to drive its wares to the market in an armored car? And sell those wares behind a curtain? And insist that people stay politely quiet when the teakettles they bought at the religion booth don’t hold water?

For centuries, indeed for millennia, people have only been allowed to see things one way: God’s way. (Okay, thousands of ways, and thousands of gods… but you know what I mean.) For centuries, indeed for millennia, religion has been the only game in town. And now that another option is appearing on the table, now that serious questions are being asked about both its usefulness and its plausibility… now you want people to stop arguing and just let each other believe what they believe?

ConversationSo I guess my reply to “Can’t we all just get along” is: Can’t we just have a conversation? Can’t we talk about religion as if it were any other political opinion/ moral philosophy/ hypothesis about how the world works? Religion is a widely- held belief system with far- reaching effects — can’t we have a conversation about whether that belief system is plausible?

If you don’t want to participate in that conversation, fine. But why are you trying to stop other people from having it?

No, don’t tell me. I know the answer to that question.

Shut up.

That’s why.

For more on the “shut up, that’s why” arguments, read this follow-up, Curiosity and the “Shut Up, That’s Why” Argument.