Greta Reading at Perverts Put Out, Sat. 1/8

Ppo Hi, all! On Saturday January 8, I’m going to be reading at Perverts Put Out, the San Francisco sex reading series of song and story. Perverts Put Out!, San Francisco’s long-running pansexual performance series, has featured stellar line-ups of truly twisted, mega-talented artistes… and even an occasional naked mayoral candidate.

January 8 will be the Happy Effiing New Year Edition of Perverts Put Out! Come overcome Seasonal Affective Disorder with a pleasantly perverted post-New Year’s bash! Performers will include Sherilyn Connelly, Gina DeVries, Philip Huang, Lady Monster, Kirk Read, horehound stillpoint, Hew Wolff… and, of course, MEEEEE Greta Christina. All presided over by the beautiful and talented Simon Sheppard.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Reservations are being recommended for this edition of Perverts Put Out. To make reservations, go to the Perverts Put Out website. If you don’t make reservations and the event sells out, don’t say I didn’t warn you. (Also please note: The event is going to be at the Center for Sex and Culture this time — NOT at CounterPulse.)

Perverts Put Out
Saturday, January 8
7:30 pm
The Center for Sex and Culture
1519 Mission Stret, San Francisco
$10-15 sliding scale

How Dare You Atheists Exist?

This piece was originally published on AlterNet.

Religious believers commonly attack atheists simply for existing. Do out- of- the- closet atheists — even polite ones — challenge attempts at theocracy?

Why believe in a god What, exactly, do religious believers want from atheists?

If you follow the atheism debates in op-ed pieces and whatnot, you’ll see that critiques of the so-called New Atheist movement are often aimed at our tone. Among the pundits and opinion-makers, atheist writers and activists are typically called out for being offensive, intolerant, disrespectful, extremist, hostile, confrontational, and just generally asshats. The question of whether atheists are, you know, right, typically gets sidestepped in favor of what is apparently the much more compelling question of whether atheists are jerks. And if these op-ed pieces and whatnot were all you knew about the atheist movement and the critiques of it, you might think that atheists were simply being asked to be reasonable, civil, and polite.

But if you follow atheism in the news, you begin to see a very different story.

You begin to see that atheists are regularly criticized — vilified, even — simply for existing.

Or, to be more accurate, for existing in the open. For declining to hide our atheism. For coming out.

Vuvuzelas.svg Case in point: In Bryan/ College Station, Texas, the Brazos Valley Vuvuzela Atheist Marching Band recently marched in the annual Christmas parade. Now, let’s be very clear about this: The 18-person marching band didn’t march with signs saying “Fuck Your Religion,” or “You Know It’s A Myth,” or even “There’s Probably No God — Now Stop Worrying and Enjoy Your Life.” They wished people a merry Christmas, and a happy Hanukkah, and a merry Kwanzaa. They played “Jingle Bells” on vuvuzelas. And they carried a banner saying that they were atheists.

The-atheist Which was enough, apparently, to send many Christians into fits. The atheist presence in the Christmas parade created a substantial controversy in the area. One resident interviewed by the local news, Tina Corgey, said, quote, “I spent many years teaching my children to love and respect other people and to love the fact that they were children of God and I don’t feel that they should be influenced in any other way especially not at a Christmas parade.” She added, “If you have younger children they weren’t going to understand but I have older children, a teenager, 8-year-old and they were curious and they asked questions and it was hard for them to believe and understand that there are actually people out there that don’t believe in God.”

And she was hardly alone. Her sentiments were echoed in many comments on the local news story. Including:

“There was one entry that should not have been in the parade. It was against Christmas.”

“We let people make a mockery out of us!!!!! My family and I have participated or watched the parade for the last 25 years, however, this was our last and hopefully other people feel the same way. Why on Earth would we allow Atheist to be in the Parade????”

“You have no idea what this holiday means for those of use who believe in a greater being. You offend me and everyone else.”

“They were there to be provocative, plain and simple. No different from a white supremacist group marching in a Juneteenth parade. This group had no business marching at that event. They are a hate group and they should be ashamed.”

“It is like the KKK going to a black church saying they are there to bring peace.”

“Last I checked, the event was called a CHRISTmas parade. Not a Happy Holidays, not a Merry Hanukkah, or a Jolly Kwanza. If you want a parade to celebrate non-Christian religious beliefs then lobby B/CS for your OWN parade.”

“If atheist are allowed to march in the parade, then maybe next year we can add some strippers advertising the silk stocking or how about some petafiles advertising their love for the kiddos! Those wouldn’t be wrong, since we are wanting to be welcoming of everyone!”

“A CHRISTMAS Parade is NOT the place for the Athiest band and they know it. They did not belong in the parade. They shouted howdy to our area of the parade and not Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays as indicated in the written article. They were mocking all the other bands and drill teams in the parade. They have a right to their beliefs or non-beliefs but flaunting it in a CHRISTMAS parade, I think not.”

“By quoting the first ammendment you just proved you were there to start trouble.”

Just to name a few.

To be fair, these sentiments weren’t the only ones being expressed. Many people clearly stated their appreciation for the atheist marching band; others said they didn’t like them but respected their right to be there; still others said Christians should embrace the atheists, and hopefully turn them to Jesus.

But this “no atheists in the Christmas parade” sentiment was widely expressed. And more to the point: Many people weren’t content to simply say, “I don’t like this.” They were saying that it should not have been allowed. They were saying that atheists, quite literally, should not have been permitted to march.

Jingle bells Just a reminder before we go on: We’re talking about playing “Jingle Bells” in a Christmas parade. You can’t get any less controversial than this. It’s like a freaking Norman Rockwell painting. How much more sweet and agreeable could you be? Okay, yes, they were playing “Jingle Bells” on vuvuzelas. But that doesn’t seem to be the point. The point seems to be that atheists, simply by existing, and being public about our existence, are offensive, mocking, provocative, hateful troublemakers.

So the next time you hear atheists called offensive, mocking, provocative, hateful troublemakers, remember this: We get called that for playing “Jingle Bells” in a marching band. We get called these things simply for being open about who we are.

If you think this is an isolated incident — think again. Look at the atheist billboard and bus ad campaigns — and the reactions to them. All over the country and all over the world, atheist organizations have been putting up bus ads and billboards: sometimes with content that deliberately challenges religious beliefs, but usually not. Usually, the atheist bus ads and billboards say things like, “Millions are good without God.” Or, “In Good We Trust.” Or, “Don’t believe in God? You are not alone.”

Atheist-sign-vandalism And when they do, there’s almost always an angry, intensely offended reaction from religious believers. There are protests, boycotts, demands that the ads be taken down, even vandalism. Sometimes the ads actually do get stopped: transit companies will sometimes stop accepting religious or controversial ads entirely, rather than let those vile atheists defile their sacred buses and trains. With our message about, you know, existing.

In other words: When all atheists do is say, “Atheists exist,” it gets treated as an assault.

It’s hard not to see this as theocracy being threatened.

How else are we supposed to interpret it? When people say that atheists have no right to march in a public parade, and ought to be prevented from doing so? When people are deeply troubled by their curious children asking questions about different religious views, and think these children ought not to be influenced by any view other than Christianity? What is that but attempting to promote your religious views by silencing all the others?

But there’s another, more insidious way that taking offense at atheists’ existence is an attempt to establish theocracy, and to perpetuate the degree of theocracy that we already have.

War On Christmas Look at it this way. Christian fundamentalists in the U.S. clearly want to have their cake and eat it, too. They want everyone in the country to celebrate their holy days. Witness the annual freak-out over the supposed War on Christmas, in which Bill O’Reilly and company get their collective panties in a twist about stores saying “Happy Holidays” instead of “merry Christmas.”

But they don’t just want everyone to celebrate Christmas. They want everyone to celebrate it religiously. They don’t want non-Christians to adapt this holy day to their own uses. Loki forbid the atheists should march in the Christmas parade, or put up billboards in December with atheists in Santa hats saying “Don’t believe in God? Just be good for goodness’ sake.”

They still want Christmas to be a religious holiday, special to the Christian faith. Yet at the same time, they want it to be a government- recognized Federal holiday that everyone has to observe.

In other words: They want theocracy.

US_Capitol_Christmas_tree_2008 See, you don’t get have it both ways. You don’t get to have Christmas be a secular holiday, universal to the culture, recognized by government agencies and celebrated by people of all faiths and of no faith at all… and still have it be a religious holiday of the Christian faith. Not if you respect people’s basic right to worship, or not, in their own way. Pick one. If Christmas is a universal secular holiday, quit whining about it being secularized. If it’s a distinct religious holiday, quit trying to ram it down everyone else’s throats.

Now, if the Christian Right wants to argue that everyone should be Christian, they absolutely have the right to do that. Heck, I argue that everyone should be atheist. I think that atheism is correct and religious belief is mistaken, and I’m working hard trying to persuade people of that. If the Christian Right thinks Christianity is correct and all other positions on religion are mistaken, by all means, they should make that case.

But there’s a huge difference between making a case for why your religious views are correct… and getting offended, insulted, and martyred over the mere fact that some people disagree with you. Making a case for your position is one thing. Trying to stop other people from making their case is quite another.

The former is simply the marketplace of ideas: bumpy, fractious, sometimes obnoxious, even at times grotesque, but a cornerstone of a free society. The latter is entitlement. The latter is hegemony: systems by which those in power perpetuate and expand their power. And, when it gets enshrined into government policy — like teaching religious beliefs in public school science classes, or funding religious organizations with tax money, or opening government meetings with prayers, or displaying the Ten Commandments on government property, or promoting one religion over another in a public school — the latter is theocracy.

And when the Christian right demands that atheists not be allowed to march in a public Christmas parade, or to advertise on public buses and trains… that’s exactly what they’re demanding.

Lydia, 1997-2010

Ingrid and I have some sad news. Our cat, Lydia, died of cancer this morning at the age of 13. She had been getting chemotherapy for the last few weeks, and for a while was doing somewhat better; but on Wednesday night she stopped eating, and her appetite never returned. We took her in to the vet on Friday for tests, and they found that her liver was failing. They changed her medications, but she continued to decline: she was clearly suffering and was not going to get better, and we decided last night to have her euthanized. She died peacefully at home this morning, with us petting her, on the mat in front of the heater.

Ingrid and I are obviously terribly sad about this. As those of you who met her know, Lydia was an incredibly sweet and special cat, and this house is not going to seem at all the same without her. And because I think about religion so much these days, I have, of course, had moments of wondering if a belief in God or an afterlife would have been comforting or helpful at this time. But I honestly have to say, with a strong degree of certainty, that the answer is “No.” I don’t think either Ingrid or I would be comforted by the idea that we might see Lydia again someday in an afterlife. I think we’d be confused and angry about why God had given her this terrible disease in the first place. (So to any religious believers who might be reading this: Please do not send us your prayers, or tell us that Lydia’s looking down on us, or anything like that. Thanks.)

We are, instead, comforted to know that we gave her the best, happiest, most comfortable life we could have given her. We are also comforted to know that we gave Lydia the best care we could during her illness, trying our best to balance our desire to give her some good quality of life with our desire for her to not suffer. And we are comforted to know that we were able to give her a good death, safe and warm and loved and without fear. Finally, we are comforted to know that she was loved, not only by us, but by so many of our friends and family — including all her fans on the Internet. This life is all we have… and all we can do, for our pets and other people, for ourselves and one another, for strangers and our loved ones, is to make the time that we have, however much time it is, as happy and joyful and meaningful as we possibly can. If you want to know what you can do for us… go be nice to the people and animals you love, and go do something to make the world a better place. (And please be patient with me in the coming days and weeks, as I may not be blogging as often as I normally do, and my mood and temper may not be at their best.) Thanks to all of you for your support during this time.

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10 Christmas Carols Even An Atheist Could Love

This piece was originally published on AlterNet. Update: I have removed “Here Comes Santa Claus” from my Honorable Mentions list, since it was pointed out that the the last two verses do mention God, in a freakish mix of the Jesus and Santa mythologies. Thanks for the correction!

Christmascarols What do you do if you’re an atheist who likes Christmas carols?

It’s widely assumed that atheists, by definition, hate Christmas. And it’s an assumption I’m baffled by. I like Christmas. Lots of atheists I know like Christmas. Heck, even Richard Dawkins likes Christmas. Plenty of atheists recognize the need for rituals that strengthen social bonds and mark the passing of the seasons. Especially when the season in question is dark and wet and freezing cold. Add in a culturally- sanctioned excuse to spend a month of Saturdays eating, drinking, flirting, and showing off our most festive shoes, and we’re totally there. And we find our own ways to adapt/ create/ subvert the holiday traditions to our own godless ends.

Sure, most of us would like for our governments to not be sponsoring religious displays at the holidays. Or any other time. What with the whole “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion” thing. And some of us do rather resent the cultural hegemony of one particular religious tradition being crammed down everybody’s throat, in a grotesque, mutant mating of homogenized consumerism and saccharine piety. But it’s not like all atheists are Grinchy McScrooges. Many of us are very fond of Christmas. Some atheists even like Christmas carols. I’m one of them.

It is, however, definitely the case that, since I’ve become an atheist activist, my pleasure in many Christmas carols has been somewhat diminished. It’s harder for me to sing out lustily about angels and magic stars and the miracle of the virgin birth, without rolling my eyes just a little. And I do notice the more screwed-up content of many Christmas songs more than I used to: the guilty self-loathing, the fixation on the blood sacrifice, the not- so- subtle anti-Semitism. I’m content to sing most of these songs anyway (except “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” which always makes me cringe). But for some time now, I’ve been on the lookout for Christmas songs that I can sing entirely happily, without getting into annoying theological debates in my head.

So, with the help of my Facebook friends, I’ve compiled a list of Christmas songs that atheists can love unreservedly.

The rules:

Vierge_au_Chapelet_1 Songs cannot have any mention of God, Jesus, angels, saints, or miracles. Not even in Latin. This is the key, the raison d’etre of this whole silly game. I’m not going to start making exceptions just so I can sneak in the “Boar’s Head Carol.” And yes, this rules out “Good King Wenceslas.” Hey, I like it too, it’s pretty and has a nice (if somewhat politically complicated) message about how rich kings should help poor people. But come on, people. It’s about a Christian saint with magical powers. No can do. (I will, however, grant a “saints with magical powers” exemption to Santa.)

Gay_Mens_Chorus_of_Washington_DC Songs must be reasonably well-known. Yes, this rules out some truly excellent stuff. Many of my favorite Christmas songs, atheist or otherwise, are on the obscure side: from the grisly, gothy, paganesque “Corpus Christi Carol” (I do love me some gruesome Christmas songs), to the simultaneously haunting and peppy “Patapan,” to Tim Minchin’s funny, touching, pointedly godless “White Wine in the Sun.” But it’s no fun singing Christmas songs by yourself. For a song to make my list, a reasonable number of people at your holiday party should be able to sing it… or at least chime in on the first verse before trailing off into awkward pauses and “La la la”s.

Weird al No song parodies. It hurts like major surgery for me to make this rule. Some of my very favorite Christmas songs of all time are song parodies: my friend Tim’s hilariously on-target Christmas-themed parody of “Bohemian Rhapsody”, “Christmas Rhapsody”; the entire “Very Scary Solstice” songbook from the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society; every Mad Magazine Christmas carol parody ever written. Song parodies are an excellent way to redeem a pretty Christmas tune from cringe-inducing lyrics, and many are just excellent songs on their own. But the idea here is that atheists can have a completely heartfelt, non-snarky love for Christmas music. So to make it onto my list, songs must be entirely sincere. (I will, however, give bonus points to classic Christmas songs that have spawned good parodies.)

Thumbs up Songs have to be good songs. A subjective judgment, I realize. And for the purposes of this game, one that is to be made entirely by me. Deal with it. I don’t care how secular it is: “Suzy Snowflake” is not making it onto my freaking Christmas song list.

Bonus points: A song gets bonus points for not mentioning the word “Christmas.” It’s okay if it does — I don’t think the word has to mean “Christ’s Mass,” any more than “goodbye” has to mean “God be with you” or “Thursday” has to mean “Thor’s day.” But songs that have become widely accepted Christmas carols without even mentioning the concept get bonus points: for chutzpah, if nothing else.

And songs get bonus points for being written more than 100 years ago. I’m not a reflexive hater of modern Christmas songs; in fact, some of them I quite like. But some of the best stuff about Christmas music is the old, old, tunes: the soaring, haunting melodies and harmonies that resonate back through the centuries. If a song can do that and still not mention the baby Jesus, I’m sold.

So with these rules in mind, here are my Top Ten Christmas Carols Even An Atheist Could Love.

White-Christmas 10: White Christmas. This is a funny one. I don’t even particularly like this song: it’s kind of drippy, and it lends itself far too well to unctuous lounge singers. But come on, people. It was written by a freaking agnostic. A Jewish agnostic at that. And it’s become one of the most classic, wildly popular entries in the Christmas music canon. How can you not love an entirely secular Christmas classic written by a Jewish agnostic?

Jingle_Bells 9: Jingle Bells. A bit overplayed, I’ll grant you. But it’s cheery, and it’s old, and it’s fun to sing. The second through fourth verses (you know, the ones nobody sings or has even heard of) are all about courting girls, racing horses, and getting into accidents, so that’s entertaining. And the thing doesn’t mention the word “Christmas” once. Heck, it wasn’t even written as a Christmas song; it was written as a Thanksgiving song. You can happily teach it to your kids without worrying that you’re indoctrinating them into a death cult. Plus it’s spawned a burgeoning cottage industry of children’s song parodies, in the time-honored “Jingle bells, Batman smells” oeuvre. (Tangent: Do kids still sing that even though “Batman” isn’t on TV anymore?)

Sleigh ride 8: Sleigh Ride. For those who like jingling bells, but are a bit sick of “Jingle Bells” after all these years. Relentlessly cheerful. Lots of fun to sing, except for the weirdly tuneless bridge about Farmer Gray’s birthday party…. but then you get back into the sleigh bells jingling, ring- ting- tingling too, and you’re back in business. And no God, or Jesus, or even Christmas. Just snow, and singing, and pumpkin pie, and friends calling “Yoo hoo!” A trifle saccharine, I’ll grant you — a bit too nostalgic for a Norman Rockwell America that never really existed — but still good, clean, secular fun.

Silver bells 7: Silver Bells. I’m sure I’m going to get roundly hated on for this one. Lots of people truly loathe modern Christmas songs, especially the ones in the drippy lounge- singer category. (See “White Christmas” above.) But I have a genuine soft spot for this one, for a very specific reason: It’s one of the few Christmas songs that celebrates the urban Christmas. Most Christmas songs sing the bucolic joys of sleigh rides and forests and holly and whatnot… joys that are entirely outside of my own experience of Christmas. My own experience of Christmas is shopping and crowded streets and lavish decorations and electric light displays that could power a goat farm for a year. The very joys that “Silver Bells” is celebrating. And the tune is really pretty. Also it’s in 3/4 time, which means you can waltz to it. So thumbs-up from me. If you sing it in a peppy, up-tempo beat, you can avoid the whole lounge-singer vibe pretty easily.

We wish you a marry christmas6: We Wish You a Merry Christmas. I was going to include at least one wassailing song in this list. Wassailing songs are among the finest secular Christmas traditions, and the general concept is familiar to a lot of people, even if the specific examples of it aren’t. But alas, every single one of them either (a) is entirely obscure outside folk-nerd circles, or (b) mentions God at least once. Even if it’s just in an “And God bless you and send you a happy New Year” context. I couldn’t find even one completely secular wassailing song that’d be familiar to anyone who doesn’t go to Renaissance Faires. So I’m letting “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” stand in for the “going from door to door singing and begging for food” wassailing genre. It’s reasonably pretty, it’s fun to sing, a lot of people who don’t go to Renaissance Faires know it. And it celebrates two great Christmas traditions: pestering the neighbors, and eating yourself sick.

Let it snow 5: Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Another in the “Christmas songs that are really about the entirely secular joys of snow and winter” oeuvre. I like this one because it’s not about mucking around in the actual snow, so much as it is about staying the hell out of it. Canoodling in front of the fire where it’s warm and dry — there’s a Christmas song for me! Plus it’s about being in love at Christmas, which is a lovely theme… and one that, like the urban Christmas, is sadly under-represented. And it’s another classic Christmas song written by Jewish songwriters, which always tickles me. Thumbs up.

SantaBabyEarthaKitt 4: Santa Baby. Yeah, yeah. Everyone loves to gripe about the commercialization of Christmas. I griped about it myself, just a few paragraphs ago. But it’s hard not to love a song that revels in it so blatantly, and with such sensual. erotic joy. Cars, yachts, fur coats, platinum mines, real estates, jewelry, and cold hard cash, with the not- so- subtle implication of sexual favors being offered in return — the reason for the season! Plus it has the class to get the name of the jewelry company right. (It’s Tiffany, people, not Tiffany’s!) And the only magical being it recognizes is an increasingly secular gift-giving saint with an apparent weakness for sultry, husky- voiced cabaret singers. (And who can blame him? Faced with Eartha Kitt batting her metaphorical eyes at me, I’d be pulling out my checkbook, too.)

Carol of the bells 3: Carol of the Bells. A trifle hard to sing in parts. But it’s awfully darned pretty. No, strike that. It is stunning. It is lavishly, thrillingly beautiful. It has that quality of being both eerie and festive that’s so central to so much great Christmas music… and it has it in trumps. It is freaking old — the original Ukrainian folk tune it’s based on may even be prehistoric — and it sounds it. In the best possible way. It is richly evocative of ancient mysteries, conveying both the joy and the peace that so many Christmas carols are gassing on about. And it does it without a single mention of God or Jesus or any other mythological beings. Just a “Merry, merry, merry, merry Christmas.” I’m down with that.

Winter wonderland 2: Winter Wonderland. Yes, I know. Another modern one. Hey, what do you expect? Christmas got a whole lot more secular in the last century. But I unabashedly love this song, and I don’t care who knows it. It has a lovely lilting saunter to it, a melody and rhythm that makes you physically feel like you’re taking a brisk, slightly slippery winter walk with the snow crunching under your boots. It gets bonus points for being a ubiquitous, entirely non-controversial Christmas classic that doesn’t mention the word “Christmas” even once. And it’s another Christmas love song, which always makes me happy. I get all goopy and sentimental whenever I hear the lines, “To face unafraid/The plans that we’ve made.” Sniff.

And finally, the hands-down runaway winner, the no-question-in-my-mind Best Atheist Christmas Song of All Time:

DeckTheHalls200 1: Deck the Halls. It’s totally gorgeous. It’s unrepentantly cheerful — jolly, one might even say — with just a hint of that haunting spookiness that makes for the best Christmas songs. It celebrates all the very best parts of Christmas: singing, playing music, decorating, dressing up, telling stories, hanging around fires, and generally being festive with the people we love. It’s old as the hills: the lyrics are well over 100 years old, and the tune dates back to at least the 16th century, if not earlier. Absolutely everybody knows the thing, and even the folks who don’t can chime in cheerfully on the “Fa la la la la” part. It’s ridiculously easy to sing without being boring. Plus it’s spawned one of the finest song parodies ever: “Deck Us All with Boston Charlie,” from Walt Kelly’s Pogo, a parody that’s almost as beloved as the original song.

And it doesn’t mention God, or Jesus, or angels, or virgin births, or magical talking animals, or redemption of guilt through blood sacrifice, or any supernatural anything. Not even once. Heck, it doesn’t even mention Christmas. This is a Yule song, dammit — and proud of it! If there are any gods at all who inspired this song, they are entirely pagan pre-Christian ones. Totally, 100% made of atheist Christmas win.

Honorable mentions. The 12 Days of Christmas. It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Up on the Housetop. Over the River and Through the Woods. Jolly Old St. Nicholas. The Christmas Song (a.k.a. Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire). I’ll Be Home For Christmas. Frosty the Snowman. Jingle Bell Rock. O Christmas Tree. All these fit all my criteria, and would be perfectly reasonable additions to your secular Christmas songbook. They just didn’t quite make my Top Ten.

Axial tilt is the reason for the season So Merry Christmas, to everybody who likes to celebrate it! Enjoy your decked halls, your ringing bells, your food, your hooch, your snow, your staying the hell out of the snow and fooling around, your sleigh rides, your expensive jewelry, your neighbors who you’re pestering with endless Christmas carols… and above all else, the people you love. There’s probably no God — so stop worrying, and enjoy Christmas!

Why Religious People Are Scared of Atheists

American+Humanist+Association+no+god+no+problem Religious believers commonly attack atheists simply for existing. Do out- of- the- closet atheists — even polite ones — challenge attempts at theocracy?

What, exactly, do religious believers want from atheists?

If you follow the atheism debates in op-ed pieces and whatnot, you’ll see that critiques of the so-called New Atheist movement are often aimed at our tone. Among the pundits and opinion-makers, atheist writers and activists are typically called out for being offensive, intolerant, disrespectful, extremist, hostile, confrontational, and just generally asshats. The question of whether atheists are, you know, right, typically gets sidestepped in favor of what is apparently the much more compelling question of whether atheists are jerks. And if these op-ed pieces and whatnot were all you knew about the atheist movement and the critiques of it, you might think that atheists were simply being asked to be reasonable, civil, and polite.

But if you follow atheism in the news, you begin to see a very different story.

You begin to see that atheists are regularly criticized — vilified, even — simply for existing.

Or, to be more accurate, for existing in the open. For declining to hide our atheism. For coming out.

*

Thus begins my new piece on AlterNet, Why Religious People Are Scared of Atheists. To read more about how atheists get attacked simply for existing — and how these attacks are an attempt to enforce theocracy — read the rest of the piece. Enjoy!

New Browsing Category: Weight Management

Hi, all. I’m back from my trip, and will be ready to start blogging again soon. In the meantime, I’ve made a slight change to my blog that I wanted to let you know about.

ScaleAs regular readers know, I’ve been doing a lot of blogging lately about weight management. For a while, I was just putting those posts in my “Food and Drink” category, along with recipes and weird food dreams and musings on the parallels between food and sex and such. But since I’ve been doing so much writing about weight management, and it seems to be a topic that’s of particular interest to a lot of people, I decided to give my posts about it their own category.

So from now on, if you want to find my posts about weight management — the strategies, the politics, the weird emotional stuff, etc. — you’ll be able to find them in my new “Weight Management” category, without having to dig through the weird food dreams and so on. Happy reading!

Brief Blog Break/ Open Thread

I’m going to be out of town from Thursday, Dec. 16 through Monday, Dec. 20. Neighbors and catsitters will be looking after our apartment and our girls, but I probably won’t be blogging again until a day or two after I get back. I’ll check in on the blog periodically to dump spam and put out fires if necessary, but other than that, I’m taking a break from it.

In the meantime, consider this an open thread. Talk about whatever you like. Just play nice. If you want a topic to start you off, how about this: Compare and contrast the literary works of William Blake with a small Russet potato. Give three examples each of similarities and differences. See you in a few days!

Caught Between Fat and Thin: When a Fat Acceptance Advocate Takes Off the Pounds

This piece was originally published on AlterNet.

Doll tape measure I’m always going to be a fat woman.

Don’t get me wrong. At five foot three and 135 pounds, I am not, by any useful definition of the word, fat.

But I have been fat. I was fat for many, many years. And for years, I was an ardent advocate of the fat acceptance movement. I actively resisted the idea that there was any point whatsoever to losing weight. I believed that medical statistics on the health effects of fatness were exaggerated at best, part of the cultural conspiracy to make women hate their bodies at worst. I was convinced that I could be just as healthy at 200 pounds (and with the eating and exercise habits that kept me at 200 pounds) as I would be with less weight. And I was convinced that losing weight never, ever worked… or at least, that it worked so rarely it wasn’t worth trying. If there was even any reason for trying. Which I was convinced there wasn’t. (It wasn’t until my bad knee started getting worse that I saw the writing on the wall, and decided that, given a choice between losing mobility and losing weight, the weight would have to go. Here’s how I did it, if you’re interested.)

You’d probably think that losing weight would make a person stop thinking of themselves as fat. And you’d almost certainly think that making a concerted effort to not be fat would make someone abandon the whole idea of fat acceptance.

If so, you’d be wrong. I thought all that myself once… and I was wrong.

Greta fat avatar I still see the world as a fat person. My perceptions of myself, and of society, and of how society views fatness and bodies and health, have been profoundly shaped by my years of being fat… in ways that are never going to change. And while I have huge disagreements with the fat acceptance movement — especially with its more extreme denialist edges — I still think many of its ideas are important, and perceptive, and entirely fair. I have serious disagreements with FA, but I am still very much shaped by it, and I would like to think of myself as an ally of the movement, and even as a member of it.

It’s just that they don’t feel the same way about me.

Or about other fat people who choose to lose weight.

The Thinnest Fat Woman in the World

Shallow Hal My years as a fat woman — and as a fat acceptance advocate — have made me hyper-conscious of anti-fat hostility, contempt, and discrimination. When I hear mocking or insulting comments about fat people, I stand up for them. When I see rigid, internally contradictory, impossible- to- attain standards of physical beauty promoted in pop culture, I rant about it ad nauseum. When I hear about fat people being discriminated against in employment and medicine and so on, I get seriously ticked off. When folks call fat people “lazy slobs” and say that “as a society we should not look up to successful people who are fat. We should tell them we admire their acting or philanthropy, but look down on them for being lazy” (direct quotes from comments on my Facebook page, btw), I smack them down with every weapon in my rhetorical arsenal.

And I still take it really, really personally. I don’t hear anti-fat bigotry the way I hear, say, racial bigotry, as something to be passionately opposed but that isn’t aimed at me personally. I hear it as being about me. When someone in a comment thread on AlterNet linked to an older photo of me and mocked me for being fat, I felt the shame and the sting and the anger… before I remembered, “Wait a minute. I’m not fat.” And was left with only the anger. On behalf of myself… and every other woman who’s ever had her ideas irrelevantly dismissed because of her personal appearance.

I sometimes feel like the thinnest fat woman in the world. (Well, probably not the thinnest… but you know what I mean.) Some people say that, inside every fat person, there’s a thin person trying to get out. I feel the exact opposite. Inside this relatively lean body, there’s a fat person nobody can see. People think they can say stupid, bigoted, hurtful things about fat people to me, because they don’t see me as one of them. They couldn’t be more wrong. I am fat. Not in a body-dysmorphic way — I don’t look in the mirror and think I’m still fat — but because this fat identity shaped me for years, and it will always be with me.

Medical journals It’s true that my feelings about fatness — my own, and other people’s — have been changing since I’ve lost weight. The biggest change is that I now acknowledge the health problems associated with fatness: problems I was in deep denial about during my fat years. So I have some concerns about the health and well-being of the fat people in my life, in a way that I didn’t before.

But I also see it as none of my freaking business.

I do think weight loss is both possible and worthwhile. But I also think that the cost-benefit analysis isn’t the same for everyone. Weight loss was really freaking hard: it wasn’t as hard as I’d initially thought it would be, and it got easier with time, but it still took some extremely hard work. And I had everything going for me: easy access to healthy food, money for things like healthy food and a gym membership, a health-conscious city to live in, a supportive partner who was going through the process with me. Not everyone has all that. And even people who do have all that still may not make the same cost-benefit analysis that I did.

So if some other fat person looks at the time and work and emotional effort that weight loss takes, and decides, “Nah, that isn’t where I want to put my energy”… I think that’s a reasonable decision. As long as they’re making it with their eyes open — as long as they understand the costs and risks of fatness, and decide that they’re willing to accept them — then I support them. To me, that’s the essence of fat acceptance. Their body, their right to decide.

And in a totally freaky paradox, fat acceptance has helped me lose weight and keep it off. My years as an FA advocate have actually given me essential tools for weight management.

Perfect Here’s what I mean. One of the hardest things about maintaining weight loss has been accepting the fact that my body is never, ever going to be perfect. It’s never going to be the culture’s ideal; it’s not even going to be my own. Even though my weight and body fat percentage and so on are now well within a healthy medical range, there are still plenty of things I’d change about my body if I could wave a magic wand and make it happen.

That’s been hard to accept. For years, I projected all my body anxiety onto my weight. If I was unhappy with how I looked or felt, I assumed it was because I was fat. Period. And when I was in process of losing weight, even though I was healthier and happier with my body than I’d been in years, I was still very focused on trying to change, to reach my goal weight, to make my body different. Now that my weight is where I want it… I have to accept this body. With my thin hair, my veiny hands, my droopy breasts, my funky loose skin from the weight loss, my chronic middle- aged- lady health problems. I have to accept this body, and live with it, and love it.

And my years in the fat acceptance movement have been helping me do that.

Greta on porch The idea that I can love my body the way it is? The idea that I can focus more on how my body feels and functions than how it looks? The understanding that the cultural ideal of physical beauty is not just insanely rigid and narrow, but internally contradictory and literally unattainable? The understanding that everybody, even fashion models and movie stars, is insecure about their bodies and their attractiveness… and that becoming more secure happens, not by hating our bodies and trying to change them, but by loving our bodies and learning to accept them? The idea that there are lots of different ways to be beautiful and desirable? The idea that confidence and joy make people way more attractive than any physical traits? The idea that I can make the body I have be as healthy and happy as possible, instead of trying to cram it into someone else’s ideal? The idea that I should eat well and exercise, even if it doesn’t make my body look exactly the way I want it to, because it will help my body feel the way I want it to? The wacky notion that a “good body” is one that gives me pleasure and does most of what I want it to do?

All of this comes from my years as a fat acceptance advocate. And I can apply it to how I feel about my body now, in ways that have nothing to do with my weight: my age, my skin, my hands, my short square frame. Heck, I can even apply it to my weight… which is totally healthy by medical standards, but is still seen as grossly fat by the standards of, say, TV actresses. Even though my weight is well within a healthy medical range, it’s still not always easy being okay with it. And the ideas I learned from FA have been of invaluable help.

And I’m tremendously grateful for that. I am still very much shaped by the ideas of fat acceptance, and even though I’m not fat anymore, I would like to think of myself as an ally of the movement, and even as a member of it.

I just wish the movement felt the same way about me.

And about other fat people who choose to lose weight.

My Body, My Right To Decide

AtherosclerosisI am grateful for the FA movement. But I also have serious differences with it, and some serious anger. Among other things, I spent years buying into the hardcore FA line denying any connection between fatness and health problems. And this denialism gave me a years-long excuse to not try weight loss. I spent years ignoring the serious health problems my weight was creating for me… because I’d been persuaded by the FA movement that weight loss wouldn’t make any difference to my health, and that I’d never succeed at it even if I tried. I wasted a lot of years being a lot less healthy than I could have been. I’m pretty ticked off about that.

But that’s nothing compared to the anger I’m experiencing now that I’ve lost weight.

When I first started blogging about my weight loss, I was met with a faceful of extremist denialism, concern trolling, and outright hostility from many FA advocates, in both blog comments and private emails. The health benefits of successful weight loss were denied. The extremist attitudes of many FA activists were denied. Connections between weight and health were denied, and medical researchers publicizing these connections were called “crusaders.” I was told that all diets fail everyone. I was told that there was no way my weight loss would work in the long run; that I might succeed in losing the weight initially, but would almost certainly fail to keep it off over time. I was told that weight loss is never the right decision for anyone, and that there is no health problem that could appropriately be dealt with by weight loss. I was told that there are no serious health risks caused or exacerbated by being fat, and that health problems that appear to be caused by fatness are always really caused by something else. I was told that weight is entirely controlled by genetics, that eating/ exercise habits have absolutely nothing to do with it, and that weight management is therefore a complete waste of time. I was told that it was okay to incidentally lose weight as part of a “healthy at every size” eating and exercise plan, but that deliberate weight loss was horribly unhealthy… even if the “conscious weight loss” plan was identical to the “healthy at every size” plan in every way. I was told that even when weight loss is successful, the harm done by it — physical, psychological, or both — is terrible: so terrible that, in all cases, it completely outweighs the benefits.

Knee And the specific health concern that inspired me to lose weight — namely, a bad knee that was getting much worse, to the point where my mobility was becoming seriously impaired — was met with a callous, trivializing dismissal that I still find shocking. Many FA advocates were passionately concerned about the quality of life I might lose if I counted calories or stopped eating chocolate bars every day. But when it came to the quality of life I might lose if I could no longer dance, climb hills, climb stairs, take long walks, walk at all? Eh. Whatever. I should try exercise or physical therapy or something. Oh, I’d tried those things already? Well, whatever. As long as I didn’t try to lose weight. That was the important thing. For the sweet love of Loki and all the gods in Valhalla, whatever else I did, I should not try to lose weight.

Essentially, when I started writing about weight loss, I was treated like a traitor. I was treated like a threat. Even though I made it clear that I wasn’t advocating weight loss for everybody, the mere fact that I was choosing to lose weight myself was seen as undermining the principles of the movement. And I was told, in no uncertain terms, to knock it off.

Our bodies out right to decide This didn’t just piss me off. It baffled me. I’d always thought of the fat acceptance movement as essentially about empowerment and self-ownership. Our bodies, our right to decide. Apparently, not so much. Apparently, the decision to manage my health by losing weight was not really mine. Apparently, my body didn’t belong to me. It belonged to the fat acceptance movement. Many of whom felt entirely comfortable telling me what I should and should not do with it.

And I’m not the only one. When I started blogging about my weight loss, I wasn’t just met with toxic denialism from FA advocates. I was also met with a hugely positive response from readers who were dealing with the same stuff. Like me, a lot of my readers identified as fat-positive, but because of serious health concerns, they were now working on losing weight… and were trying to reconcile their fat-positivity with their weight loss. And a number of these readers had dealt with the same hostile, concern-trolling, denialist reaction from the FA movement. They felt the movement had made an important and valuable difference in their lives, they felt a connection with it that they wanted to maintain… and yet they felt like they’d been abandoned by it, even pushed out of it. Margo put it best in her email to me: “The body / fat positive communities don’t seem to have any place for me, even though these are communities I’ve sought out, identified with and gained a lot from over the years. Firstly, I’ve done the unthinkable and dropped my body fat percentage intentionally, and secondly, the scientist in me just can’t deal with the faith-like basis for some of the debates on health, weight and weight loss anymore. I just wish there was a place to talk about the intersection of these issues with feminism without feeling that I’m a FA and feminism drop-out.”

What. The. Hell.

What kind of feminism is this?

What kind of movement claims to be about empowerment… but disavows people for making their own choices about their bodies?

What kind of movement claims to be about self-ownership… but abandons people who deviate from the movement’s norm?

What kind of movement claims to be about self-esteem… but treats people like traitors for loving their bodies and wanting to take care of them the best way they know how?

Full body project I still think there is a hugely important place in our society for a fat acceptance movement. I think we need a movement that advocates for treating people with dignity, equality, and respect, regardless of their size; a movement that resists the impossible cultural ideals of beauty; a movement that encourages fat people to love themselves and take care of themselves, regardless of whether they lose weight; a movement that speaks out for fat people’s right to make their own choices about their bodies and their health.

Greta avatar But it needs to accept that not everyone is going to make the same choices. If the fat acceptance movement is going to advocate for fat people who don’t choose to lose weight, it needs to be every bit as supportive of fat people who do.

Our bodies.

Our right to decide.

Period.

10 Best Christmas Songs for Atheists

Christmascarols What do you do if you’re an atheist who likes Christmas carols?

It’s widely assumed that atheists, by definition, hate Christmas. And it’s an assumption I’m baffled by. I like Christmas. Lots of atheists I know like Christmas. Heck, even Richard Dawkins likes Christmas. Plenty of atheists recognize the need for rituals that strengthen social bonds and mark the passing of the seasons. Especially when the season in question is dark and wet and freezing cold. Add in a culturally- sanctioned excuse to spend a month of Saturdays eating, drinking, flirting, and showing off our most festive shoes, and we’re totally there. And we find our own ways to adapt/ create/ subvert the holiday traditions to our own godless ends.

Sure, most of us would like for our governments to not be sponsoring religious displays at the holidays. Or any other time. What with the whole “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion” thing. And some of us do rather resent the cultural hegemony of one particular religious tradition being crammed down everybody’s throat, in a grotesque, mutant mating of homogenized consumerism and saccharine piety. But it’s not like all atheists are Grinchy McScrooges. Many of us are very fond of Christmas. Some atheists even like Christmas carols. I’m one of them.

It is, however, definitely the case that, since I’ve become an atheist activist, my pleasure in many Christmas carols has been somewhat diminished. It’s harder for me to sing out lustily about angels and magic stars and the miracle of the virgin birth, without rolling my eyes just a little. And I do notice the more screwed-up content of many Christmas songs more than I used to: the guilty self-loathing, the fixation on the blood sacrifice, the not- so- subtle anti-Semitism. I’m content to sing most of these songs anyway (except “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” which always makes me cringe). But for some time now, I’ve been on the lookout for Christmas songs that I can sing entirely happily, without getting into annoying theological debates in my head.

So, with the help of my Facebook friends, I’ve compiled a list of Christmas songs that atheists can love unreservedly.

*

Thus begins my latest piece on AlterNet, 10 Best Christmas Songs for Atheists. To see my list of cool Christmas songs that even a hard-line atheist could love — and my reasons for which songs did and didn’t make the cut — read the rest of the piece. Enjoy!

The Atheist Seal of Approval

This piece was originally published on AlterNet.

Many religious believers are intent on getting atheists’ approval for their beliefs. If you’re hoping for that — don’t hold your breath.

Religious_symbols “But surely you don’t mean my religion!”

If you hang around the online atheist world long enough, you’ll notice an interesting pattern. Many religious and spiritual believers who engage with atheists seem very intent on getting atheists’ approval for their beliefs.

Typically, these believers acknowledge that many religions are profoundly troubling. They share atheists’ revulsion against religious hatreds and sectarian wars. They share our repugnance with religious fraud, the charlatans who abuse people’s trust to swindle them out of money and sex and more. They share our disgust with willful religious ignorance, the flat denials of overwhelming scientific evidence that contradicts people’s beliefs. They can totally see why many atheists are so incredulous, even outraged, about the world of religion.

But they think their religion is an exception. They think their religion is harmless, a kinder, gentler faith. They think their religion is philosophically consistent, supported by reason and evidence — or at least, not flatly contradicted by it.

And they want atheists to agree.

Seal_of_approval They really, really want atheists to agree. They want atheists to say, “No, of course, your beliefs aren’t like all those others — those other beliefs are crazy, but yours make sense.” Or they want atheists to say, “Wow, I hadn’t heard that one before — how fascinating and well thought-out!” Of course they understand why atheists object to all those other bad religions. They just don’t understand why we object to theirs. They get very hurt when we object to theirs. And they will spend a significant amount of time and energy trying to persuade us to stop objecting.

Why?

Why do they care what atheists think?

I’ve been getting into these debates with religious believers for many years now. I’ve seen how they start out, and where they end up. I’ve seen many, many theists desperately try to get the Atheist Seal of Approval for their religion. And I’ve reach two conclusions about why they’re doing it. They think atheists have higher standards than most believers… so our approval will mean more. And they don’t want to think their religion has anything in common with those other sucky religions… and getting atheists’ approval would let them keep on thinking that.

The Gold Standard

Gold_bars Believers seeking the Atheist Seal of Approval for their beliefs seem to see atheists as the gold standard. They know that most atheists have rejected religion for a reason: they know that we take religion seriously, and that we’ve examined it carefully and thoughtfully before rejecting it. They know that we’re more familiar with the tenets and traditions of religion than most believers: that we not only know more about religion in general than most believers do, but that we know more about specific religious beliefs than the people who actually adhere to those beliefs. They see that, as Julia Sweeney so eloquently put it, we take religion too seriously to believe in it. They see how passionately we value the truth — and they respect that.

So if they can get us to give their religion a thumbs-up… that would really mean something. They understand that religious believers — other believers, that is, not themselves of course — often don’t have very good reasons for their beliefs. They sincerely care about the truth, I think (this is definitely not the case for all believers, but it is for these folks), and they want to test their faith against the harshest critics they can think of. They want their cognitive dissonance resolved — the tension between the religious faith they hold to be true, and the evidence and arguments showing that the case for their faith is crap — and they understand enough about the communal reinforcement and other cognitive errors to know that Other People Who Already Agree With Them isn’t the most rigorous way to resolve that dissonance. If they could get some atheists to tell them their belief is okay, that would resolve that annoying dissonance in a heartbeat.

And they seem genuinely surprised when this approval isn’t forthcoming. It seems to have genuinely never occurred to them that, since atheists have carefully and thoughtfully examined religion before rejecting it, this examination probably includes their religion as well.

The Not-So-Special Snowflake

Special snowflakeWhich brings me to my second point:

Many believers don’t want to acknowledge how ordinary their religion is.

They don’t want to acknowledge everything that their religion has in common with every other religion. They feel the same revulsion and bafflement that atheists do at religious hatred and fraud and willful ignorance… and they don’t want to be identified with it. They think their religion is a special snowflake — and they really, really want atheists to recognize its beautiful and unique crystalline structure.

Snow_on_windscreen So when atheists say, “Nope, sorry, your snowflake looks like all the other snowflakes”… these believers get very upset. They get very upset when we point out the striking similarities between their religion and the hateful, fraudulent, willfully ignorant religions they so rightly reject. They get very upset when we point out that their beliefs are just as inconsistent with evidence, their arguments just as weak, their goalposts just as slippery, their assumptions just as unfalsifiable. They get very upset when we point out that we have, in fact, heard of their version of religion before, or at least ones very much like it. They get very upset when we say, “Yes, I’ve heard that argument before, about a hundred times, I could refute it in my sleep, here’s exactly why it doesn’t hold up, in fact here are links to a dozen other atheist writers who have also pointed out exactly why it doesn’t hold up.”

And they get very upset indeed when we point out that their version of religion is far from harmless. They get very upset when we point out that their version of religion, just like every religion, encourages people to believe things for which there is no good evidence, ideas that by their very nature can have no reality check… and that this, by itself, does harm. They get very upset when we point out that disabling reality checks leaves people vulnerable to oppression, fraud, and abuse: that it armors beliefs against criticism, questioning, and self- correction, and thus armors them against anything that might stop them from spinning into extreme absurdity, extreme denial of reality… and extreme, grotesque immorality. And they get very upset when we argue that their kinder, gentler form of religion gives credibility to the harsher, uglier forms… by giving credibility to the idea that disabling our reality checks is not only acceptable, but a positive virtue, and that it’s perfectly reasonable to believe things for no good reason, just because we want to.

They don’t just get upset. They get hurt… and they blame atheists for their hurt feelings. They often get hostile… and lash out at atheists for the appalling intolerance of arguing that they’re wrong. (In an argument that they sought out. I know. It doesn’t make sense to me, either.) And they get intensely surprised. They come seeking approval for their religion from the very people who, by definition, are the least likely to give it… and they get genuinely surprised when that approval isn’t forthcoming.

The Bad News

Bad news So if you’re hoping for the Atheist Seal of Approval for your religious beliefs, I’ve got some bad news:

It isn’t going to happen.

We think your religion is philosophically inconsistent. We think your religion is completely unsupported by either evidence or reason. And many of us — probably most of us — think your religion fucks people up.

I’ll stop here for a Fairness Moment. Yes, most atheists understand that different religions are, you know, different. And I’m one of them. We get that some religions do more harm than others; that some religions are more out of touch with reality than others; that some religions are more grossly contradicted by hard evidence than others. (We understand, for instance, that theistic evolution, while having no good reason whatsoever to believe it and in fact being flatly contradicted by a mountain of evidence, isn’t quite as outlandishly bonkers as young-earth creationism.) Some of us — and again, I’m among them — will even say that, if the only religions in the world were the tolerant, ecumenical, moderate and progressive forms of religion, we wouldn’t care all that much about it. We’d see it about the way we see urban legends about alligators in the sewers and whatnot: just another silly mistaken idea that some people are mysteriously attached to. We’d still disagree with it, we’d still argue against it if you asked our opinion… but we wouldn’t be devoting time and energy to building a community of people who don’t believe it, or to persuading people who do believe it out of their beliefs.

And, of course, we think you have the right to your beliefs. Absolutely, passionately, without question. We think your beliefs are full of beans… and if anyone tries to use force or violence or law to stop you from believing it, we’ll sock them right in the jaw. Or at least vote to get them out of office.

But for majority of atheists, that’s the most you’re going to get out of us.

No religion We don’t believe in God. Any god. Not Pat Robertson’s, not Osama Bin Laden’s — and not yours. That’s what it means to be an atheist. If we were impressed by your religion and thought it had real merit, we wouldn’t be atheists anymore. Asking us which religion is the least harmful or the least out of touch with reality or the least contradicted by reason and evidence… it’s like asking which of the Bee Gees is the least annoying. They’re all annoying. And all religions are harmful, out of touch with reality, and contradicted by reason and evidence.

And… okay, this next bit is going to sound a bit harsh. But frankly, we don’t think your religion is even all that interesting. We’ve seen it before. You may have an odd little twist on it that we’re not familiar with, and we might be somewhat curious about it. But the apologetics and theodicies and defenses are all depressingly familiar. I’ve been blogging about atheism for many years now, and it’s been a very long time indeed since I’ve seen a defense of religion that I’ve never seen before. (The Argument From Tigers was the last one. And it didn’t exactly provoke serious searching of my non-existent soul. Mostly it provoked months of gut-blasting hilarity.)

In fact, in the years that I’ve been writing about atheism and debating with religious believers, I’ve actually become more confident in my atheism. I’ve become more confident because I see the same bad arguments for religion over and over and over again. And over. And over. And over yet again. Sometimes I think that if I see the argument from design one more time, or the God of the gaps, or “different ways of knowing,” or “you can’t disprove it with 100% certainty, therefore it’s reasonable to believe it,” or Pascal’s freaking wager, I’m going to have an aneurism. Whenever I see someone make an argument for religion, I still have moments of wondering, “Is this going to be the argument that convinces me?”… but those moments are becoming shorter and shorter every day, to the point where I’m measuring them in nanoseconds, and every day my hope that I’ll see something surprising dwindles just a little bit more.

The Good News

Good news Futurama Don’t get me wrong. We can work with you as allies. We don’t have to agree about everything to work together on issues we do agree on. We can work together on separation of church and state, stopping religiously- inspired oppression and violence, etc. Many of us — heck, probably most of us — are even willing to temporarily set aside our differences while we work together on the stuff we have in common.

But if you ask us what we think of your religion… we’re going to tell you. If you visit our blogs to see what we think of your religion… you’re going to find out.

We think you’re mistaken. And if you’re honest, you need to acknowledge that you think we’re mistaken. Yes, it’s true, every time an atheist says, “I don’t believe in God,” we’re implying that people who do believe in God are wrong. But every time you say that you do believe in God, you’re implying that people who don’t are wrong.

That’s fine. You can think we’re wrong, and we can think you’re wrong. We can have that conversation, or we can put it on the back burner and talk about something else. We can be allies, friends, families, with people we disagree with.

But that’s not going to work if that alliance or friendship depends on us giving you our seal of approval for beliefs we think are flatly mistaken.

After all — you’re not giving us yours.

UPDATE: A Facebook comment from David Byars has made me realize that there’s a likely third reason that some believers seek the atheist seal of approval for their beliefs. And that’s that they’re in process of questioning their beliefs… but are afraid of doing so. Their religion tells them not to question, but to have faith — or else they’re just frightened of letting go of their faith, for fear of permanent death and other scary implications of atheism. But they do, in fact, care about whether the things they believe are true. So they seek out atheists’ approval for their beliefs: partly for reassurance… but partly as a baby step into more serious questioning. The “My religion is okay, isn’t it?” attempts at cognitive dissonance resolution probably are probably, at least sometimes, part of the process of questioning and relinquishing faith. I think there’s a lot of truth to this… and I also think it’s a more generous assessment than my original ones. I guess I haven’t been in a very generous mood lately. Thanks for the reality check, David — and for the reminder about patience.