Happy Blasphemy Day!

Today is Blasphemy Day International. I feel like I should be saying something spectacularly blasphemous, like, “Fuck God in all sixty of his non-existent assholes.” Or write some blistering rant about the fucked-up shit religion is responsible for, and why religion is, in fact, responsible for it. Or link to my stick figure drawing of Mohammad from “Everybody Draw Mohammad Day,” or to my Blasphemy Challenge video from about eight hundred thousand years ago. (If you want a nice, thorough, thoughtful analysis of why I think blaspheming is important and positive, the “Everybody Draw Mohammad Day” piece is a good one.)

Or maybe I should just pass on the new swear Ingrid and I made up: “Jesus Fictional Christ!”

But I don’t have my shit together, and didn’t realize this was happening until late last night. So I’ll just leave it at this:

There is no god.

And people should be able to say so without fearing for their jobs, homes, families, safety, and lives.

I’m just sayin’, is all.

Fashion Friday: Jewelry

When the original conversation in this blog about fashion and style went south, I had two emotional reactions. The first was to want to crawl into a hole and hide; to think, “I never ever want to write about this topic again, it makes people hate me, I clearly can’t write about it without having people jump down my throat, so never mind, let’s just forget the whole thing.”

The second was to think. “Fuck that noise. I love this topic, and I’m fucking well going to write about it as much as I want. Anyone who’s interested can read it, and anyone who isn’t can ignore it, and the haters can go fuck themselves.”

This is me. Guess which route I’m taking.

I am officially inaugurating Fashion Friday. Every Friday, I’m going to write something about fashion and style. Maybe a little something… maybe a lot. Maybe an exegesis on some complex issue of fashion and society; maybe a discussion of a personal fashion issue I’m having; maybe some pretty pictures or a link to an interesting fashion blog.

I will do this every Friday, except when I don’t feel like it, and until I get bored.

*
Today’s Friday Fashion topic: Jewelry.

I came to jewelry late in the game. For years, it was barely in my style consciousness at all. I had a few pieces I wore for special occasions — but on a day to day basis, I never wore it. And I mean never. I didn’t hate it or feel anxious about it or anything; I just didn’t care about it enough to explore it. It seemed like a hassle, one more thing to worry about. I wanted to spend my clothing budget on, you know, clothes.

But as I’ve been exploring fashion and style more consciously and thoroughly, and as I’ve been having more fun with it, I’ve been embracing jewelry. And I’ve come to a couple of realizations about it that have made me want to embrace it and explore it even more. [Read more...]

From the Archives: An Open Letter to Concerned Believers

Since I moved to the Freethought Blogs network, I have a bunch of new readers who aren’t familiar with my greatest hits from my old, pre-FTB blog. So I’m linking to some of them, about one a day, to introduce them to the new folks.

Today’s archive treasure: An Open Letter to Concerned Believers. The tl;dr: It’s common for believers to express concern for the well-being of the atheist movement, to worry that our public image is so negative — and to offer advice on how we could get our message across more effectively by being sweeter, calmer, and less confrontational. In this letter, I express my, um, gratitude for their concern, but inform them that it is unnecessary, and thank them for sharing.

A nifty pull quote:

It is difficult to avoid the observation that, whenever believers give advice to atheists on how to run our movement, it is always in the direction of telling us to be more quiet, to tone it down, to be less confrontational and less visible. I have yet to see a believer advise the atheist movement to speak up more loudly and more passionately; to make our arguments more compelling and more unanswerable; to get in people’s faces more about delicate and thorny issues that they don’t want to think about; to not be afraid of offending people if we think we’re right. I have received a great deal of advice from believers on how atheists should run our movement… and it is always, always, always in the direction of politely suggesting that we shut up.

You’ll have to forgive me if I question the motivation behind this advice, and take it with a grain of salt.

Enjoy!

Is the Word “Atheist” Negative?

“But the word ‘atheist’ is so negative. It defines us by what we’re not, not by what we are. Why don’t we use a positive word for ourselves instead?”

If you’ve been around the atheist/ humanist/ secularist/ freethought/ bright/ etc./ movement for more than about five minutes, I bet you’ve heard this argument.

I want to take a minute or two to shoot it down.

I want to get this out of the way first: If you don’t believe in any gods, then I care almost not at all what you, personally, call yourself, or what word you use to describe your god-themed opinions or lack thereof. I do sometimes wish we could all agree on a word — I think we might present a stronger and clearer face to the public if we did. But apparently we can’t, at least not now, and I think we have more important things to bicker about. More interesting things, anyway. And the right to define ourselves is too important for us to take away from each other.

For the record, I think that what we don’t believe is important, and can have positive value. But I don’t agree at all that the word “atheist” is negative. Except in the most narrowly semantic sense of the term.

And I want to make a comparison to make my point.

Let’s look at the word “non-violent.”

Would you say that “non-violent” is a negative word? When you hear that a person or an organization is committed to non-violence, do you think, “Oh, they’re so negative”? Do you think they’re defining themselves entirely in terms of the very thing they oppose?

Or do you think the word “non-violent” is a positive word? Do you have good associations with it? Do you think that non-violent people and organizations are committed to a positive, valuable principle? (Assuming that you do think non-violence is a good thing, of course. If you don’t… that’s another discussion.)

Or take the word “unbiased.” Do you think this is a negative word, in the sense of being unpleasant or undesirable? Do you even think it’s a negative word in the sense of not having positive content of its own, and being defined solely in terms of what it isn’t? Or do you think “unbiased” is a good thing to be, a positive virtue to be pursued?

There are plenty of words and phrases with a technically negative semantic construction, but which we think of as positive — “positive” in the sense of “valuable and good,” or “positive” in the sense of “having actual independent content,” or both. I can think of oodles of examples. (Or rather… I could think of oodles of examples, if I weren’t writing this at one in the morning. I thought of about a dozen examples a few hours ago when I was writing this piece in my head. I really need to get better at taking notes. If you can think of any, please mention them in the comments, so I can hit myself on the forehead and go, “D’oh! Of course! How could I forget (X)?” )

Here’s the point. A word can technically, semantically, be constructed as a compound word with a negative prefix… and still have a positive meaning. For one thing: The meanings of words shift over time, and once a compound word or phrase becomes an independent unit, its meaning can change independently of its components. (That’s why hot dogs don’t have to be hot, and the phrase “cold hot dog” isn’t a contradiction.) To say that the word “atheism” is inherently negative simply because it’s constructed of the negative prefix “a-” appended to the root “theist”… I’m sorry, but that’s a really bad argument.

And here’s the other point:

Yes, atheists have a largely negative public image right now. But it’s not because the word “atheist” is a negative word. It’s because the concept of atheism is upsetting to so many people. It’s not the word that’s the problem. It’s who we are, and what we think and don’t think. It’s the fact that we don’t believe in gods. That’s what people have a problem with.

And that’s not going to get fixed by changing what we call ourselves.

I like the word “atheist.” Obviously. It has a powerful, attention- grabbing, in- your- face quality that appeals to me. And pretty much everyone knows what it means. A lot of people have stupid myths and misunderstandings about its implications… but most people get that the word’s core meaning is “doesn’t believe in any god.” That is patently not true for the words “humanist,” “freethinker,” “secularist,” “bright,” etc. A whole lot of people literally have no idea what these words mean. (Or worse… they think they do, and don’t.)

But again, I’m not trying to talk anyone into using the word “atheist” for themselves. That’s not my point. If you don’t believe in any gods, use whatever word you want to convey that. Call yourself a humanist, a secularist, a freethinker, a bright, any combination of the above. Whatever. That’s your business, and none of my own. (Within reason. If you use the word “omelet” or “bioluminescent” or “fuckface” to describe your lack of belief in any gods, I’ll object on the grounds of incoherence.)

My point is that, if you think other people shouldn’t use the word “atheist,” or that organizations/ events/ movements/ etc. shouldn’t use the word “atheist”… you really need a much better argument than, “It’s so negative.”

I’m on Twitter! Follow me at @GretaChristina .

From the Archives: Blind Men and Elephants: Religion, Science, and Understanding Big Complicated Things

Since I moved to the Freethought Blogs network, I have a bunch of new readers who aren’t familiar with my greatest hits from my old, pre-FTB blog. So I’m going to start linking to some of them, about one a day, to introduce them to the new folks.

Today’s archive treasure: Blind Men and Elephants: Religion, Science, and Understanding Big Complicated Things. The tl;dr: Some religious believers use the fable of the blind men and the elephant (the blind men touching different parts of an elephant and arguing about what it really is) to explain why different religions believe different things… the idea being that God is too vast and complicated for anyone to understand completely, and different people just perceive different parts of him. But if that were true, then why can’t the blind people compare notes and come to a more complete and accurate understanding of the elephant? We do that in science — why can’t we do that in religion? The answer: Because in science, the elephant is really there. In religion, it’s not.

A nifty pull quote:

Here’s the thing. In some versions of the elephant fable, the blind men groping the elephant just fall to hopeless arguing with no resolution. In other versions, a wise man explains to them what’s really going on. And that does make it a good metaphor for religion. Either people trust what someone else tells them is true, or they squabble endlessly and even fall to blows, with no means of resolving their disagreements.

But here’s the interesting thing:

I have never seen a version of the fable in which the blind men start explaining to one another why they think the elephant is what they think it is. I have never seen a version where the blind men say, “Hey, come over here! Follow my voice, and check this out — this is why I think it’s a snake!” (Or a tree trunk, or a rope, or whatever.)

And yet, that’s exactly how science works.

Yes, of course, if God existed, he would be immense and complex and difficult to perceive and understand.

And what — the physical universe isn’t?

Enjoy!

Is Everyone Basically Bisexual?

I’m sure you’ve heard this before: “Everyone is basically bisexual.” It’s something a lot of bi activists used to say a lot, and that some bi activists still say. I used to say it myself, back in my mis-spent youth. (And yes, my mis-spent youth was basically bisexual.)

Is it true?

My simple answer: No.

My somewhat more complex and nuanced answer: It depends somewhat on how you define your terms. But if you define your terms in any useful or commonly-understood way… then no.

If you define sexual orientation purely on the basis of physical sexual attraction — and if you define “bisexual” as “having any physical sexual attraction whatsoever to both women and men ever in your life” — then okay, yes, I think most people probably fit that definition. Not all, but most. People on the absolute far ends of the Kinsey scale, people with absolutely zero sexual attraction to the same sex or the opposite sex ever in their lives, do seem to be fairly rare.

But that’s not a very useful definition of “bisexual.”

And I don’t think it’s what most people mean by the word. [Read more...]

From the Archives: Atheism, Openness, and Caring About Reality: Or, Why What We Don’t Believe Matters

Goodies from the vault!

Since I moved to the Freethought Blogs network, I have a bunch of new readers who aren’t familiar with my greatest hits from my old, pre-FTB blog. So I’m going to start linking to some of them, about one a day, to introduce them to the new folks.

Today’s archive treasure: Atheism, Openness, and Caring About Reality: Or, Why What We Don’t Believe Matters The tl;dr: Atheism doesn’t just mean caring about what isn’t true. Atheism means caring about what is true. I’m an atheist because I care passionately about reality — and caring about reality means sorting out what’s probably really true about reality from the infinitude of stories we can make up about it.

A nifty pull quote:

Our world does not get bigger when we place our subjective experience of the world over the world itself. Our world does not get bigger when we treat every possibility that we can imagine as equally likely… and then choose between them based on which ones we find most attractive. Our world does not get bigger when we hang onto beliefs about reality that are almost certainly not true, clinging to the gossamer- thin thread that “it might be true, you can’t absolutely prove that it isn’t.” Our world does not get bigger when we treat the space inside our head as more important than the space outside of it.

Our world gets bigger when we let the world in. Our world gets bigger when we let the world itself take priority over whatever ideas we might have about it. Reality is bigger than we are. Our world gets bigger when we let that reality be what it is… and when we pay careful attention to what it is, the most careful attention we possibly can.

And that’s why I care about what isn’t. That’s why I spend so much time and energy thinking and writing about what I don’t believe.

Enjoy!

P.S. Yes, I know, the formatting on the photos looks weird on a lot of the posts from the archives, including this one. Sorry. Some of the formatting got screwed up when the old posts got imported from the old Typepad blog. I’m hoping to fix it eventually… but that’s a whole lotta posts and a whole lotta really tedious mucking about with html, and right now I have higher priorities. Please have patience. Thanks.

Greta Speaking in Stanford and Cincinnati, 10/5 and 10/16

I have a couple of speaking events coming up! One is in the Bay Area at Stanford, and one is in Cincinnati at the FIG@20 conference — the 20th Anniversary Celebration of the Free Inquiry Group of Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky. FIG@20 promises to be an awesome time: the other speakers include PZ Myers, Jamila Bey, JT Eberhard, American Atheist president Dave Silverman, Darrel Rey, (the creator of the “Sex and Secularism” study), Tom Flynn, and Tim Madigan. Lunch and dinner on Saturday are included in the registration fee, which is very reasonable, and is ridiculously cheap for students.

I’ll be speaking at Stanford University on Wednesday, October 5, hosted by the Atheists, Humanists, and Agnostics at Stanford (AHA!). The FIG@20 conference in Cincinnati is on Saturday 10/16 and Sunday 10/17. For both events, my topic will be “Why Are You Atheists So Angry?” (What can I say. It’s a barn-burner.) Details are below. If you’re going to be in/near Palo Alto or Cincinnati, I hope to see you there!

EVENT/ HOSTS: Atheists, Humanists, and Agnostics at Stanford (AHA!)
DATE: Wednesday, October 5
TIME: 7:00 pm
LOCATION: Building 160, Room 124. (Also known as “Wallenberg Hall”, NE corner of the Main Quad.)
TOPIC: Why Are You Atheists So Angry?
SUMMARY: The atheist movement is often accused of being driven by anger. What are so many atheists so angry about? Is this anger legitimate? And can anger be an effective force behind a movement for social change?
COST: Free

EVENT/ HOSTS: FIG@20 conference — the 20th Anniversary Celebration of the Free Inquiry Group of Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky
DATES: Saturday, October 16 – Sunday, October 17
DATE AND TIME OF MY TALK: Saturday, October 16, 11:00 am
LOCATION: DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Cincinnati Airport
2826 Terminal Drive
Hebron, Kentucky, 41048
SUMMARY: See above
COST: $70.00; $25.00 for students; $50.00 for FIG members. Price includes Saturday and Sunday Pass and Lunch and Anniversary Dinner on Saturday.
NOTE: Child care for children ages 7-16 will be provided by Camp Quest, for $25.00 per child.

Oh, and while I’m at it: The flyer for the Stanford talk is so far beyond awesome, I have to show it to you at a nice big size. Those are some angry glasses!

JT Eberhard Speaking in San Francisco and Berkeley, 10/8 and 10/9

Y’all know JT Eberhard, right? Co-founder of Skepticon. Organizer and high school specialist for the Secular Student Alliance. Blogger at WWJTD? Awesome public speaker who tears the roof off the sucker. Badass mofo.

JT is going to be speaking twice in the San Francisco Bay Area, on Oct. 8th and 9th. Once in San Francisco, once in Berkeley. Both times on the topic of “Coming Out Skeptical.” If you’ve never heard him speak before, you do not want to miss it. If you have heard him speak before… you know what I’m talking about.

Here are the details. If you’re in the Bay Area, check it out!

EVENT/ HOSTS: East Bay Atheists
DATE: Saturday, October 8th
TIME: 1:30 – 3:30 PM
LOCATION: Berkeley Main Library, 3rd Floor Meeting Room, 2090 Kittredge St., One Block From Downtown Berkeley BART
TOPIC: Coming Out Skeptical
SUMMARY: “Coming Out Skeptical” addresses the need for atheists to come out of the closet and to not merely focus on their atheism, but on the human obligation to be reasonable. Eberhard will make arguments drawn from history, philosophy, and current events for why a better world is dependent on our ability to be candid with others about the reliability of their beliefs, as well as our ability to be forthright about our own. This talk has been given to standing ovations at the American Atheists National Convention, Dragon*Con, and elsewhere.
COST: Free
Dinner afterwards at King Dong Restaurant, 2429 Shattuck Ave. (near Haste) in Berkeley

EVENT/ HOSTS: Atheist Advocates of San Francisco
DATE: Sunday, October 9th
TIME: 3:00 to 5:00 PM (Meeting will start promptly at 3:00)
LOCATION: Audre Lorde Room (Upstairs), Women’s Building, 3543 18th (at Valencia), San Francisco, three blocks from 16th and Mission BART, parking garage at 3255 21st Street (at Lexington)
TOPIC: Coming Out Skeptical
SUMMARY: See above
COST: $6 (renting a meeting room means they have to charge admittance)

I’ll be there at the San Francisco talk, hooting and causing a commotion. Hope to see you there!

I’m on Twitter! Follow me at @GretaChristina .