Atheists Are Mad About Bigotry — And They Aren’t Taking It Any More

This piece was originally published on AlterNet.

Anti-atheist bigotry is real. And atheists will make your life miserable if you try it.

If there are just two things you take away from this story, it should be these:

1) Anti-atheist bigotry and discrimination — of a completely overt, very ugly kind — is real.

2) Atheists are no longer putting up with it. If you fuck with them, they will fuck with you right back. And they know how to do it.

Two recent events in the news illustrate this bigotry quite vividly. In the first, a billboard company in Ohio rejected an atheist billboard campaign — at the last minute, the week before the billboards were scheduled to go up, after weeks of extensive discussion and planning with no hint of trouble — because the atheist content was deemed “obscene, unnecessarily offensive and/or not in the best interests of the community at large.” In the second story, a local merchant near an atheist conference put a sign on his shop door, explicitly saying that conference attendees were not welcome in his Christian business. And he got a faceful of Internet fury for his trouble. [Read more...]

“(X) Is Just Like A Religion” — No, It’s Not

“So-and-so is just like a religion. It inspires the same sort of blind trust. It encourages tribal loyalty and ‘us against them’ thinking. It places some individuals above others, in a position where their goodness and worth can’t be questioned. It asks people to hang on to ideas and beliefs that are flatly untrue. It’s a hierarchical system of authority and obedience. It’s just like a religion. Heck — it is a religion.”

I’ve seen this argument a lot. When secular institutions come under fire, atheists sometimes argue that the institution in question is really religious. It came up in responses to my piece comparing the Penn State child rape scandal with the Catholic Church child rape scandal: people argued that football and sports get treated like religions, and indeed are religions. It comes up in political arguments: organizations and affiliations from the Libertarian Party to the Green Party get accused of being religions. It comes up a lot when believers make the Stalin argument: believers say “Look at Stalin! Look at what happens when atheists run things!”, and atheists reply (among the many other arguments against this ridiculous canard), “Stalinism was a pseudo-religion!”

I think it’s a bad argument. And I’d like to persuade atheists to stop using it. Here’s why.

Either religion is fundamentally different in some way(s) from other human activities/ institutions/ ideas, or it’s not.

If religion isn’t different — then the things that are bad about it aren’t special or unique. And it’s not accurate or fair to claim that any particular bad thing that anybody does is “just like religion.” You might as well say that any particular bad thing that anybody does is “just like business,” or “just like non-profit political organizing,” or “just like sports.” There’s no reason to single religion out.

And if religion is different — then we need to be very careful, and very rigorous, about what that difference is. [Read more...]

“Even the worst have their best”: Forbes’ Gene Marks, the 1%, and the Luxury of Second Chances

“The very best students, even at the worst schools, have more opportunities.”

“Is this easy? No it’s not. It’s hard. It takes a special kind of kid to succeed. And to succeed even with these tools is much harder for a black kid from West Philadelphia than a white kid from the suburbs. But it’s not impossible. The tools are there. The technology is there. And the opportunities (sic) there.”

“Technology can help these kids. But only if the kids want to be helped. Yes, there is much inequality. But the opportunity is still there in this country for those that are smart enough to go for it.”

“I wouldn’t care if I was a student at the worst public middle school in the worst inner city. Even the worst have their best.”

In response to President Obama’s speech about inequality in America, we have this essay by Gene Marks about how yes, there’s inequality in America, and it’s a terrible thing — but if you’re a Poor Black Kid from the Inner City (his terminology, not mine), you can still make it in America if you’re smart and hard-working. In Forbes Magazine. Pause for a moment to savor the irony.

Greg Laden at The X Blog has already taken this essay and shredded it into confetti. In his post, Forbes’ Gene Marks Needs To Check His Priv, he eloquently, vividly, thoroughly points out that these “opportunities” supposedly available to smart, hard-working poor kids are actually virtually non-existent, and are drying up fast. I pretty much just want to say, “Yes. This. Read this.”

But I want to add something as well.

Even in the most idealistic version of Gene Marks’s idealistic vision for Poor Black Kids from the Inner City? You have to be “the best” to even have a shot.

If you’re a child of the 1%, you don’t have to be extraordinary to be successful. If you’re a child of the 1%, and you’re just of average intelligence and average talent and average self-discipline, you’re probably going to do okay.

But if you’re one of Gene Marks’s Poor Black Kids from the Inner City, and you’re of average intelligence and average talent and average self-discipline, you’re almost certainly going to get sucked back down into the vicious circle. [Read more...]

Caturday: All Three Kittens Snuggling

I have a hypothesis about kittens and cuteness. Christina’s Theorem of Kitten Cuteness postulates that cuteness increases exponentially with the number of cats present. Thus, two kittens together aren’t twice as cute as one — they are four times as cute. And three kittens aren’t three times as cute as one — they are a full nine times as cute. There’s a law of diminishing returns with this rule, of course — there’s clearly a point at which the cuteness levels off and even diminishes, although researchers disagree as to where exactly that point is — so apparently fine-tuning is called for, and further research is needed.

But in support of my provisional hypothesis, I offer the following data set.

















The researcher would like to thank Comet, Talisker, and Houdini for their participation in this study. Further theories on the cuteness of kittens can be found in my earlier treatise, Chocolate Chip Cookies and Cute Kittens: Compare and Contrast.

Bill Donohue and the Catholic League: You Will Be Assimilated… Er, Converted

“As an added bonus, they will no longer be looked upon as people who ‘believe in nothing, stand for nothing and are good for nothing.’”

That’s Bill Donohue, of Catholic League fame. The “they” in question are atheists. And the special treat for which not being despised is a “bonus” is, of course, converting to Christianity.

Chances are you’ve heard about the Catholic League’s new “Adopt an Atheist” program, in which Christians are being encouraged to contact the local American Atheists affiliate and find an atheist to convert — or, as Donohue put it, help to “uncover their inner self” and “understand that they were Christian all along.” The story has been all over the atheosphere. Greg Laden at The X Blog thinks atheists should return the favor and adopt Christians, except not in a douchy way; Digital Cuttlefish is baffled at the idea that someone could be a Christian and somehow not know it; Bentley Owen at Friendly Atheist points out some of the most glaring flaws in Donohue’s thinking and understanding about atheists; JT Eberhard at What Would JT Do? is going ballistic — and is offering himself up for adoption, and begging the Catholic League to bring it on.

So here’s the thing that’s jumping out at me about this.

“As an added bonus, they will no longer be looked upon as people who ‘believe in nothing, stand for nothing and are good for nothing.’”

What’s jumping out at me is the “looked upon” part.

Donohue is freely acknowledging here that atheists are seen as lesser human beings. He’s not saying that atheists actually do “believe in nothing, stand for nothing and are good for nothing.” He’s saying that we’re looked upon that way. He’s freely acknowledging that life as an atheist can be hard; that we routinely get treated as cynical, cowardly, and worthless.

And his response to this is not that we should stand up against this sort of bigotry — but that we should give in to it, and assimilate.

How messed-up is that? What would he say to, say, a Jew who was looked on as someone who believes in nothing, stands for nothing, and is good for nothing? Would he tell them that the answer to anti-Semitism was to convert to Christianity? Would he tell an immigrant who was seen as worthless because of their heritage that they should deny it?

And if not — then how is it a remotely acceptable thing to say to atheists? How is it appropriate to tell atheists that we should convert to Christianity because, in addition to getting to “celebrate Christmas like the rest of us,” we get to be treated as having meaning, integrity, and value to our lives?

Anti-atheist bigotry is no joke. Atheists get denied custody of their children explicitly on the basis of their atheism. Atheist kids in public high schools trying to organize clubs routinely get stonewalled. Atheist veterans got booed in a Memorial Day parade. Atheist teenagers get threats of brutal violence and death for asking their school to obey the law and not proselytize about religion to students. Polls consistently put atheists at the bottom of lists of who people would vote for or trust. Towns get hysterical about atheists playing “Jingle Bells” on vuvuzelas in a Christmas parade. It’s no joke. (Okay, the thing about the vuvuzelas is sort of funny…)

And it is profoundly screwed up to tell us that, because we’re looked upon as people who believe in nothing, stand for nothing and are good for nothing, we should knuckle under and assimilate. It is profoundly screwed up to tell us that, instead of standing up for ourselves and our rights, instead of showing the world what we do believe in and stand for and are good for, we should live a lie, and con ourselves into believing things we don’t really believe.

Fuck that noise.

So for the record — I’m with JT on this. Bring it on. I, for one, will happily let a Christian take my conversion on as a project. I’ll post their persuasion attempts to my blog, and will reply to them here. And I’m sure many of my readers will happily reply as well. (Boy, will they ever.) I strongly suspect that, within a year, my Christian adopter will either have fled for the hills, or will have become an atheist. (One at a time only, please. I only have so many hours in a day.)

And I encourage other atheists to do this, too. Especially public atheists, or atheists with some sort of public forums like Facebook pages. Let’s put ourselves up for adoption!

Because we’re not afraid. Our arguments are better. Our ideas are better. We’re right.

Fashion Friday: Function, Form, and Frivolity

In clothing and grooming, is there a clear distinction between choices you make because they’re functional, and choices you make for reasons other than function?

There was a recent debate here in my blog about fashion and clothing. KG was asserting that the choices he made about clothing and grooming were entirely based on practical considerations; Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden (damn, I love the Internet sometimes) was arguing that KG’s assertion was implausible, and that unless you dress like a hermit in a cartoon about hermits (my words, not hers), there is at least some element of vanity or non-functionality in your clothing and grooming choices. To quote the bits of the debate most pertinent to today’s topic (you can follow the whole thread here, embedded in other conversations about shellac manicures):

Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden:

It doesn’t matter whether you cut your own hair or not: cutting one’s hair is a vanity.

KG:

No, it isn’t. I need to maintain a reasonably clean exterior in order not to offend others, notably my employers, and short hair minimises maintenance time. Functional reason.

Now, I’ve certainly bought into this “form/ function” divide myself, and have mentally categorized aspects of my clothing and grooming in terms of whether they were practical or frivolous. But KG’s comment got me thinking:

Is it really so easy in fashion and style to distinguish between function and form? [Read more...]

The Kittens Have Landed!

This is what my blogging life is going to look like for a little while.



The kittens are home! We got them from the fostering folks last night. The two little tabbies, Talisker and Comet — a.k.a. Team Tabby — started settling in almost right away. “Settling in” being defined in this case as tussling and racing up and down the hall at full speed, occasionally punctuated by sitting in our laps and purring for two minutes. Yesterday evening mainly consisted of collapsing into gales of uncontrolled giggles, and following the girls around discovering ways they can get into trouble and trying to forestall them. The curtains in living room have already been removed.

But screw this narrative crap. You all want pictures, don’t you? [Read more...]

What Does It Mean That God Is Good?

If God is good purely by definition… then what does “good” even mean?

The other day, JT Eberhard posted a piece to his blog, What a Savior Looks Like, arguing that the Jesus character in the New Testament myth isn’t really much of a savior. It’s kind of a brilliant piece (although my idea of a savior isn’t Keanu Reeves kicking ass in slo-mo), with an idea that had honestly never occurred to me. He points out… oh, I’m just going to quote him:

If we rebelled against god (that guy wanted to keep us from having knowledge and he murdered whole civilizations, so if he exists I damn sure hope we rebelled!), what would our savior look like?

Imagine a city in which there lives a man of incomparable wealth and influence who kicked his children out of the house and into the street for wanting to go to college. Not only that, but he’s pretty much running around and killing everybody who isn’t obeying him. Sometimes he tortures them. It would be totally understandable for even his children to rebel, for clearly he is a crime lord. But one day a savior rides into the city and…

A) …engages the crime lord in battle, ultimately destroying him and giving the people of the city their lives back.

B) …joins forces with the crime lord and helps the crime lord enforce the “obey or be tortured” edict.

One of those sounds like a savior, the other sounds like the mafia demanding protection money. “Sure, I’ll keep my family from trashing your business if you just pay your 10% each month for the service and do everything we tell ya.” Are these ruffians also saviors?

(snip)

A savior sides with the rebels against the oppressor. Jesus isn’t a savior, he’s an accomplice.

“Jesus isn’t a savior, he’s an accomplice.” Damn, can that boy write. I’m just sayin’, is all.

And he got a comment from Davis S., saying (emphasis mine):

I guess it depends on what perspective you’re evaluating the morality of it all from. This is a pretty good post from a humanist perspective, but from the Christian theological perspective, whatever God does is the very definition of good. It’s not necessarily good from our perspective, but it’s at least internally consistent.

And the top of my head just about came off.

Whatever God does is the very definition of good. Really. Do you seriously want to stick with that position?

Because this sort of thinking renders the entire concept of good and evil meaningless. It says that if God does something, it’s good by definition. Killing your own child; slaughtering people (including children) by the thousands; torturing people to death (famine, drought, tsunami, pediatric cancer, etc.) — all of it is good, by definition, simply because it’s God doing it. Even if it’s something that would be monstrously, irredeemably evil if a person did it.

Therefore, what “good” and “evil” mean for God are entirely disconnected from what “good” and “evil” mean for people. The concepts literally bear no relation to one another.

Which, if you believe that human goodness emanates from God, is entirely incoherent.

And I, for one, do not want the concepts of “good” and “evil” to be meaningless and incoherent. I want them to bloody well make sense and mean something.

As for, “It’s not necessarily good from our perspective, but it’s at least internally consistent”: Really? I mean… really? What kind of twisted ethical system puts “good” next to “internally consistent,” and decides that “internally consistent” is more important?

Christianity. Twisting human ethics into unrecognizability since 33 A.D.

*****

UPDATE: A comment on Facebook by Avi Blackmore summed it up perfectly: “It’s basically a massive appeal to authority as an end-run around taking moral responsibility.” FTW!