I turn 51 today. Woo-hoo! Happy birthday to me — and happy New Year to everyone. May 2013 be a damn sight better than 2012.
Via Butterflies and Wheels, regarding the Delhi rape victim who just died:
“Had the girl simply surrendered (and not resisted) when surrounded by six men, she would not have lost her intestine. Why was she out with her boyfriend at 10 pm?” These comments made by an agricultural scientist [Dr Anita Shukla] at a seminar organised by the police provoked an outrage in Madhya Pradesh on Thursday, and demands for punitive action against her.
I feel a need to point something out. This should be obvious to anyone with a shred of human decency, but apparently not everyone has a shred of human decency, so I’m going to point it out.
Rape victims get blamed when they resist… and when they don’t.
When rape victims don’t resist, people ask them, “Why didn’t you fight back? Why didn’t you scream for help? if only you’d fought back, maybe this wouldn’t have happened.”
And when rape victims do resist, people — such as Anita Shukla — ask them, “Why did you fight back? Why did you scream for help? You only made it worse.”
So how about this. Hear me out, I know this is a little out there, but just for a wild change of pace, let’s try this instead: “If these six men hadn’t raped and beaten her, she would not have lost her intestine. If these six men hadn’t raped and beaten her, she would not have died.”
And maybe we could add this: “If these six men weren’t in a culture where sexual harassment of women is accepted as a fact of daily life; a culture where rape victims are ignored by police; a culture where victims of rape are blamed for their crimes… maybe they wouldn’t have raped and beaten anybody.”
Shame on you, Anita Shukla. Shame on you for adding to the culture where rape victims are blamed for their rape… as opposed to, you know, their rapists. Shame on you for making every other rape victim feel that much less likely to report the crime. Shame on you for making every other rape victim feel even the slightest bit to blame for the crime committed against them. Shame on you for adding to the culture that makes rape victims reluctant to report the crimes… and for making them right to feel that way, since their reports likely won’t be taken seriously. Shame on you for adding guilt and shame and blame to the trauma of being raped.
“Had the girl simply surrendered.”
You sicken me. Shame on you.
New Year’s Eve is coming up, so I thought I’d reprint this recipe for Pan Galactic Gargle Blasters. Proceed with caution.
When I was about to turn 42, I of course wanted to serve Pan Galactic Gargle Blasters for my birthday. Not the real thing, of course — they can’t be mixed in Earth’s atmosphere — but a reasonable approximation.
So we went online, and found approximately 894,589,760 recipes for it. Trouble was, most of them involved gin, to approximate the Arcturan Mega-gin. Trouble was, I don’t like gin.
But we found this one, and loved it. It has just about everything a Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster should have. It looks really alien, like something they’d drink on Star Trek. It’s entertaining and dramatic to put together. And its effects are, in fact, very similar to having your brains smashed in by a slice of lemon wrapped round a large gold brick. It’s one of those sneaky drinks that’s waaaaaay more intoxicating than it tastes: it goes down sweet and easy, you keep tossing them back… and soon you’re putting plastic cocktail monkeys in your hair, and trying on other people’s pants, and telling total strangers how awesome they are and how much you love them.
Bitters (we used Angostura)
Ahead of time (you can do this a day or two ahead of time, or whenever you like, really), pre-mix a mixture of:
1/2 blue curacao
Also ahead of time (shortly before the party):
Prepare a plate of sugar cubes with one drop of bitters on each cube (this approximates the tooth of an Algolian Suntiger).
As guests arrive:
Fill a champagne flute mostly full of champagne, about one shot short.
Add one shot of the curacao/vodka mixture.
Drop in one embittered sugar cube.
Do these one at a time for each guest: it’s pretty to watch, and the embittered sugar cube goes “fizz fizz fizz” in a very dramatic way when it’s dropped into the champagne/ vodka/ curacao mix.
Drink only with people you trust. And beware the plastic cocktail monkeys.
Some misogynist, anti-feminist asshole has been creating fake Twitter accounts impersonating Ophelia Benson (Butterflies and Wheels), and tweeting under her name.
Ophelia is taking steps via Twitter to stop this… but that takes time. In the meantime, you can help. If you’re on Twitter, please report the following accounts for spam:
And if anyone is still in any doubt about the campaign of harassment against feminist women on the Internet in general and in the atheosphere in particular…
“There are no atheists in foxholes.”
I’m sure you’ve heard this more times than you care to remember. I’m sure you’ve heard religious believers dismiss secular humanism as a shallow, breezily hedonistic philosophy that dries up and blows away in the face of trauma, mortality, and grief.
It’s malarkey. You probably know that, of course; you probably know plenty of atheists who have been through terrible hardship without turning to religion. Chances are you’ve been through some yourself and emerged with your godlessness intact. You may even know — or indeed be — an atheist in a foxhole: not the metaphorical kind, but the military kind, seeking shelter from enemy fire.
I want to talk about one of those metaphorical foxholes. I want to talk about how, in the depths of it, my atheism and humanism didn’t dry up; instead they supported me and helped carry me through. And I want to encourage other humanists to talk with each other — and with religious believers — about your own trials and challenges and the ways that humanism, atheism, materialism, skepticism, and an evidence-based view of the world have helped get you through. (Assuming, of course, that they have.)
Thus begins my latest “Fierce Humanism” column for The Humanist magazine, Humanism in a Shitstorm. To find out about how atheism and humanism have helped me get through the unspeakable shitstorm of the last few months — and why, in the depths of this metaphorical foxhole, I haven’t had the slightest wish to take false comfort in religion — read the rest of the piece. Enjoy!
I’m not spending Christmas Day alone. I’m spending it with Ingrid and her family. I’ve spent Christmas Day with Ingrid for as long as we’ve been together: sometimes with her family, sometimes just with the two of us. And I love spending Christmas with Ingrid, whether it’s with her family or just with her. I’m greatly fortunate in my in-laws — I like them as well as loving them — and we have a whole set of wonderful traditions both silly and touching: some from her family, some that I’ve brought to the table, some that Ingrid and I have created for ourselves. And of course, I’m fortunate beyond words in Ingrid.
But I was single for twelve years before I fell in love with Ingrid. For ten of those twelve years, I was very happy to be single, was single very much by choice, was actively and adamantly resistant to the idea of not being single.
And during those years, I almost always spent Christmas Day alone. I could have visited my family, but I chose not to: I preferred to see my family at times other than Christmas, without the stress of holiday travel/ high expectations/ December in the Midwest. And I could have visited any number of friends who were having Christmas Day gatherings. But I didn’t.
Because when I was single, I loved spending Christmas Day alone.
In my Bay Area circle of friends, the weeks leading up to Christmas are almost always a bit of a wild social whirl, with parties and gatherings starting the first weekend of December and not ending until New Year’s Eve. A big part of that social whirl is a Christmas Eve dinner that I co-host/ co-organize every year, about half the time in whatever apartment I’m living in: a Christmas Eve dinner that’s hosted as few as eight people and as many as twenty-one. I’m one of those freaks of nature who actually loves Christmas: the December social whirl is fun and awesome, the Christmas Eve dinner is a high point of my year, and I look forward to all of it for months. But it’s also kind of exhausting. And when I was single, Christmas Day was the eye of the hurricane. Christmas Day was my day of peace and quiet. Christmas Day was the day I spent reading books people had given me, listening to CDs people had given me, eating leftovers from Christmas Eve dinner. I’d talk to friends and family on the phone… but otherwise, Christmas Day was the day that I fed my introverted brain with all the downtime it wanted.
Here’s the reason I bring this up.
The one thing that sucked about spending Christmas Day alone was the way other people reacted to it. The one thing that sucked about spending Christmas Day alone was the expectation that of course you want to spend Christmas Day with family and/ or friends… and that you were a big sad loser if you spent it alone. The one thing that sucked about spending Christmas Day alone was the cultural trope that the only possible reason anyone would spend Christmas Day alone was that they had no family, no friends, nobody who cared about them, no other choice.
I remember in particular one phone conversation I had on one particular Christmas Day. I was doing the rounds of Christmas phone calls, and one of the people I was talking to asked what I was doing that day. I said that I was just hanging around reading books and eating leftovers. And they said, in a voice filled with horror and shock, “ALONE?!? You’re not spending Christmas alone, are you?”
Up until that moment, I’d felt fine about spending Christmas alone. I’d felt more than fine about it. I’d felt positive and happy about it. I’d been looking forward to my Christmas day alone almost as much as I’d been looking forward to my Christmas Eve of food and festivity and boisterous social chaos. But as soon as I heard, ” You’re not spending Christmas alone, are you?”, I suddenly felt ashamed. I actually wound up lying, just to stop the horrified sympathy: I told them I was alone at the moment, but had plans to go visit friends later in the day. This person’s concern — and I do think it was genuine, well-meaning concern — about me not being a big sad loser on Christmas… it was exactly the thing that made me feel like a big sad loser. (And if I had, in fact, felt sad about being alone on Christmas Day, this would have made me feel even worse.)
I know, from what I’ve been told, that I’m not the only one to feel pressured about not spending Christmas alone. I know that this pressure to not spend Christmas alone is felt even by people who don’t care about Christmas. Even people who don’t come from a Christian background, religiously or culturally, get hit with this “You’re not spending Christmas alone, are you?!?!” thing. And I know I’m not the only one who’s been made to feel ashamed about spending Christmas alone, even if they personally were fine with it.
So I want to say two things.
One: If you have people in your life who may be spending Christmas alone — please don’t make them feel bad about it. Sure, extend an invitation if you’re having a gathering. But please don’t frame it with, “You don’t have to spend Christmas alone.” Please don’t frame it with the “You don’t have to be a big sad loser who can’t even find anyone to cadge an invitation from on Christmas” trope. Please don’t frame it as “You poor thing, we’ll invite you to join us out of charity.” Frame it as, “We would love to have your company if you’d like to join us.” (And if they say “No, thank you” accept it.)
And two: If you’re spending Christmas Day alone, I hope you have a good one. Whether you care about Christmas, or you don’t give a damn about Christmas and as far as you’re concerned today is Tuesday and why the hell are all the stores closed… I hope you have a great day today.
Ed Brayton, of Dispatches from the Culture Wars and co-founder of the Freethought Blogs network, had a bad and scary health episode this week, which resulted in him being hospitalized and having his chest cracked open. In his words:
So, Black and Decker to the sternum and they are shocked to find a ton of fluid in my chest, pushing down on my heart and lungs and making my heart go into overdrive to keep oxygen in my system. They do a biopsy on the lymph nodes, clean things up, install three chest tubes and sew me back up. Sometime in the middle of the night, I ripped out my ventilator tube (I told them that better not be on my bill, I did it myself). As for what caused all of this, that’s still not certain.
He’s going to be okay — but he’s going to have a longish recovery period, and he needs help. Again in his words:
The good news is that I have health insurance, which I pay on a COBRA from my job with AINN (it runs out in six months and I’ll have to get my own insurance, which thankfully can’t be denied anymore because of the preexisting condition). But I’m still going to have some significant out-of-pocket expenses and loss of income during the recovery period (it’s going to be a couple months before I’m really back to normal). So you can certainly help out financially if you have the means to do so and it would be greatly appreciated.
If you can help Ed get through this without having to add money worries to the stress of recovery, details on how to help are here.
I know there were a lot of people who wanted to contribute when I did my cancer fundraiser, but who didn’t hear about it until I’d raised enough money and stopped the campaign. If any of you still feel inspired to help me out — please help Ed. Ed is pretty much why Freethought Blogs exists: he co-founded it, and he keeps it running every day. Helping him helps me, and it helps everyone else in this network, and it helps everyone who finds this network valuable. Please help if you can. Thanks.
This is an old post from my archives, which I’m reprinting now so people can make it in time for for Santamas. Enjoy!
It’s been a while since I’ve done a food post here that wasn’t about weight management, and I just made this pie for my birthday, so I thought I’d share the recipe.
This is a ridiculously easy, unbelievably delicious recipe for chocolate pie. And it’s not just me saying so: friends have been known to demand it for celebratory events, and will shed hot tears of bitter disappointment if it doesn’t appear at Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner. It’s very distinctive — most people who try it say they haven’t had anything else quite like it — and it’s one of those rare recipes that seems really elegant and like it would be really complicated, but in fact is insanely simple. The pie crust is 9/10th of the work.
The recipe came from my mother, but I don’t know where she got it from. I’ve been making it for many years now, and have refined the recipe a bit over the years, mostly in the direction of using better ingredients. I did an experimental version for my birthday this year (in addition to a classic version), which was a big hit, so I’m including that variation here as well.
CLASSIC CHOCOLATE PIE
1 single pie crust (this is an open-faced pie). More on pie crust in a tic.
1 stick butter
1 cup sugar
3 Tbsp. evaporated milk
2 squares/ ounces baking chocolate (unsweetened)
Whipped cream (optional in theory, mandatory in my opinion)
A quick note on the baking chocolate: For the sweet love of Loki and all the gods in Valhalla, use Scharffen Berger’s if you possibly can, or some other seriously good baking chocolate. I made this pie for years using just regular baking chocolate from the supermarket, and it was perfectly yummy… but once I started using Scharffen Berger’s, it amped up from delicious to transcendent. I frankly don’t much care for Scharffen Berger’s eating chocolate, I think the mouth- feel is insufficiently creamy… but for cooking, their baking chocolate is beyond compare.
Bake the unfilled pie shell for 5-10 minutes at 450 degrees, until it’s starting to firm up a little but isn’t cooked through. Melt butter and chocolate in a saucepan. Add the other ingredients (minus the whipped cream) and mix; you can do this in the saucepan. (I add the eggs last, so the melted butter and chocolate have a chance to cool and the eggs don’t scramble.) Pour the filling into the pie shell. Bake for 30-40 minutes at 325 degrees, until the filling is set. (I usually test it at 30 minutes, but it usually still needs another 5-10 minutes. When it’s no longer jiggling in the middle, it’s done.)
I told you. Ridiculously easy. Not counting the pie crust, the actual work you put into this pie takes about five minutes.
I always serve this with whipped cream, as the pie is intensely rich and dense, and I think the whipped cream gives it balance. But many people prefer it with the richness and denseness unadulterated, and scoff at the whipped cream as an unnecessary frill for lightweights. My advice: Make whipped cream available, and let your guests decide. (Don’t add too much sugar to the whipped cream; this pie is plenty sweet.)
EXPERIMENTAL CHOCOLATE PIE
Make the exact same recipe above, but when mixing the filling, add:
This year was the first time I tried this experiment, and I think it was a big success. It gives the pie a nice, exotic, spicy bite that I think enhances the chocolate and gives it complexity and depth. But it also makes it less purely chocolatey. A lot of what makes this pie so yummy is its “pure essence of chocolate straight to the hindbrain” quality, and you do lose that with the spices. You be the judge. You can always make two — one classic, one experimental — and switch back and forth between the two until you explode. (UPDATE: I’ve now served both the straight-up chocolate version and the spiced version several times, and opinions are deeply divided as to which is better. My suggestion: Make one of each. Why the hell not?)
BTW, if you wind up making this pie and come up with your own experimental variations — let me know!
I’m toying with the idea of adding liquor, like rum or Kahlua or madeira. (UPDATE: I tried adding alcohol last year, and it didn’t work that great: if you add enough to get significant flavor, the texture gets goopy. I’m going to stick with dry spices from now on.) Cayenne might also be good — I love me some chocolate with cayenne — or maybe rosemary and almond. And I’m considering using vanilla vodka for the crust instead of regular vodka.
Speaking of which:
NOTES ON PIE CRUST
For years, I made this pie with store-bought pie crusts, mostly because one of the things I liked best about it was how easy and fast it was, and making my own pie crust would defeat that purpose. Also, pie crust was one of those cooking tasks that for some reason I found scary and daunting. And it’s true that if you get a decent quality store-bought pie crust made with butter, it will make a perfectly fine pie.
But I was recently taught how to make pie crust by my upstairs neighbor, Laura the Pie Queen… and it is one of the refinements that has elevated this pie from Perfectly Good to Ambrosially Exquisite. I have now become a complete convert — a snob, one might even say — and will have no further truck with store- bought pie crust. And while homemade pie crust is definitely both more time- consuming and more difficult (it reduced me to near- hysterics the first couple of times), like most things it gets easier and faster with practice.
Here’s the recipe Laura gave me. Some of the reasoning behind it: Crisco makes pie crust flakier, butter makes it more flavorful… which is why I like this recipe, which uses both. And using vodka to moisten the dough makes for a flakier crust, as it evaporates during baking. (You want to use as little liquid as you can to make the dough hold together, since more liquid makes the crust tougher: the vodka facilitates this.) This is a recipe for an entire two-crusted pie; since the chocolate pie is open-faced, halve this recipe if you’re making just one pie, or make it all if you’re making two pies. Which I usually do. We will never get leftovers if I don’t make two pies.
2 – 1/2 cups (12 – 1/2 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for the work surface
1 tsp. table salt
2 Tbsp. sugar
12 Tbsp. (1 – 1/2 sticks) cold butter (frozen is good)
1/2 cup cold vegetable shortening (Crisco or equivalent)
1/4 cup cold water
1/4 cup cold vodka
Sift dry ingredients together. Cut butter and shortening into smallish pieces, add to flour. Using a pastry cutter or your fingers, break butter and shortening into smaller and smaller pieces covered with flour, until the little floury fat-balls are roughly pea-sized. Sprinkle in the water and vodka, enough to make the dough hold together and roll out, without making it too sticky. (You may wind up using slightly more or less liquid than the recipe calls for, depending. Don’t ask me “depending on what.” Just depending.) Sprinkle more flour on your rolling surface and your rolling pin, and roll the dough out. Place it gently in the pie plate, flatten the edges over the lip of the pie plate, and prick the bottom and sides with a fork. Proceed.
In general, you want to work the pie dough as little as humanly possible while still making it a coherent whole. Don’t overwork the dough while breaking up the butter and shortening; use as few strokes as possible to roll it out. And everything that can be cold, should be cold.
Like I said: The pie crust is 9/10th of the work. It’s totally worth it, though. If you can’t bear it, go ahead and buy a crust from the store. Better yet, get your upstairs neighbor to make it for you. (Thanks again, Laura!)
If you make this pie, let me know how it turns out. If you make an experimental variation that you like, let me know what it is. Happy eating!
1: It’s a Friday evening, and there’s a party Ingrid and I said we’d go to. It’s a Friday evening, which all too often means Ingrid and I are exhausted by our work weeks, and we are not feeling it. But we promised we’d go to this party. And it’s sort of work-related for me, there’s some business I need to take care of there. And there are, in fact, people there we want to see. Or, more accurately, there are people there we want to want to see, people we would normally want to see if we weren’t so fried.
So we sigh, and we dutifully change clothes. We crawl out of our day clothes, and resist the urge to just crawl into bed, and get into our party frocks.
And like that! — we start to feel it. We start to get excited. We get a second wind, an infusion of energy. We think about the people who are going to be at this party, and suddenly we don’t just want to want to see them — we actually want to see them. We look at ourselves in our mirrors, at these gorgeous, elegant-yet-sexy, stylish-yet-friendly party people, and we think, “They look like fun! We want to hang out with them! If they’re going to be at the party, it’s sure to be awesome!”
2: It’s an overcast afternoon, in more ways than one. I’m struggling with depression, and it’s hard today. I’m in my bathrobe, rotting on the sofa. It’s hard to do anything, to want to do anything, to even imagine wanting to do anything ever again. But I know, intellectually, and even emotionally, that if I can just get myself out of the house, even for half an hour, I will feel better.
So I take a quick shower, or maybe just take a birdbath in the sink, and I force myself to put on some clothes. Not even interesting clothes, necessarily: just jeans, or a plain skirt and tights and boots. Something other than a reeking bathrobe.
And I feel better. I don’t feel great, but I feel better. I no longer feel like a lazy pathetic loser wasting her one short life sitting around on the sofa in her bathrobe feeling sorry for herself. I feel like a functional adult. Or at least, like a potentially functional adult. I feel like a person who is capable of leaving the house, capable of running a couple of errands and getting a little exercise, capable of getting out into the limited but not trivial sunlight that the day has to offer.
3: I’m at a conference. Or rather, I’m in a hotel room at some un-fucking-godly hour in the morning, getting ready for a conference. I am not by any stretch of the imagination a morning person, and I am fighting the urge to say “Fuck it,” to return to the big comfy hotel bed and sleep for six more hours, to stay in the big bed all day watching TV and masturbating and ordering room service. But I remember, vaguely and distantly through my groggy haze, that I actually do like this work, that I am wildly fortunate to be able to do this work, that once I’m at the conference I will want to be there doing this work. Also, I remember that the conference organizers are paying me to be there, and if I don’t show up they’ll want their money back.
So I put on whatever dressy suity thing I brought, whatever combination of jacket/ dress or skirt/ interesting stockings/ jewelry/ dressy-but-comfortable shoes I spent an hour picking out when I was packing for this trip. I look in the mirror.
And I feel like a grownup. I feel like a professional. I feel put-together, authoritative but friendly and approachable. I feel happy to be seeing my old friends and colleagues, excited to be meeting new people and getting exposed to new ideas. I feel like someone who gives a damn. I feel like someone worth listening to.
4: I’m sick. I don’t mean that I have a cold: I mean that I’m recovering from cancer surgery. For a couple of weeks now I’ve been in bathrobes and pajamas nonstop, loose comfy soft things that don’t make me hurt worse than I already do. But the doctors said that I need to start leaving the house and taking short walks outside. And besides, I’m sick of it. I need a change. Now.
So I put on some clothes. I don’t even remember what now: I was in a Vicodin haze at the time, I don’t remember much of anything from then in much detail. Probably a loose-ish dress, or a loose-ish skirt and top. Something not too binding around the waist, where it still hurts like hell. Something not too different from pajamas, really: but something that doesn’t read, in the current language of fashion and style, as pajamas. Something that reads — minimally, barely, adequately — as clothes.
And I feel like myself. Or more like myself, anyway. I don’t feel like an invalid. I feel like a sick person still, but I don’t feel like I am my sickness. I don’t feel like I’m drowning in my sickness. I feel like a person who has a sickness. I feel like a sick person, who is getting better.
I’ve written a lot about seeing fashion and style as a metaphorical language, a form of expression: a way of telling the world who we are, and how we feel about ourselves, and how we see our place in the world, and what our attitude is towards whatever situation we’re in.
What I haven’t written about as much is how this language isn’t just expressive. It’s aspirational. Fashion and style can express how we feel… but it can also shape how we feel. It can help make us feel the way we want to feel. It can help us express who we are… but it can also help us feel like the people we want to be.
Some of this aspirational quality is largely pragmatic, more functional than personal or emotional. Work clothes are the most obvious example. People with ambitions in the workplace are consistently advised to dress for the job they want, not for the job they have. People going on job interviews are consistently advised to dress as if they already have the job. (Advice with some limits, obviously — if you’re interviewing for a job at a fast food restaurant you’re not going to wear a bright orange pantsuit and a paper hat — but generally good advice.) If there’s something you want in the work world, dressing as if you already have it sends a signal to the people who have the power to give it to you: it signals that you understand what it is you’re aspiring to, and that you respect and value it, and are willing and indeed eager to take it on.
But this “dress as who you want to be” thing isn’t just pragmatic. It’s not just about signalling to the world who you want to be. It’s also, sometimes, about signalling it to yourself.
As regular readers of this blog may know, I’m a fan of the fashion makeover TV show, “What Not to Wear.” (I have mixed feelings about the show, but on the whole I like it.) And one of the things I find most fascinating about the show is the way that so many of the makovers turn into impromptu therapy sessions. Week after week, women on the show say that they can’t see themselves as anything other than a frumpy harried mom, or a sad sack, or a meek sheep who blends into the background. Week after week, women say that they can’t see themselves as ambitious working women, or as successful entrepeneurs, or as sexy and fun-loving. And week after week — through the process, not only of acquiring new clothing, but of talking intensely with Stacy and Clinton about how their clothing makes them feel and how they’d like to feel instead, about what they think their clothing says about them and what they’d like to be saying instead — they start to see themselves differently. Sometimes there’s a moment when you can see the switch flip; sometimes the process is more gradual. (And occasionally, the magic doesn’t happen at all.) But week after week, women on the show start seeing the possibilities of who they could be… because they’re seeing that new self in the mirror.
If fashion is like a language, sometimes we use it to talk to ourselves.
There’s a saying among some people who are recovering from addiction: “Fake it ’til you make it.” I think fashion and style can be like that. I think part of acting like who we want to be, until we become it or get closer to being it, can involve dressing the part. That can be short-term: if you want to feel a little less depressed, or a little more like going to the party, sometimes it helps to dress the part. And it can be long-term: if you want to be a sexual adventurer, or a serious adult in the professional world, sometimes it helps to dress the part.
It doesn’t just tell the world who you want to be. It tells yourself. It can help us feel like the people we want to be. And sometimes, it helps us become it.
Atheists are often seen as crying wolf when they speak about bigotry. But discrimination against atheists around the world is real.
“Oh, you atheists are always whining about how put-upon you are. You don’t experience real discrimination: not like African Americans, or gays, or women, or immigrants. So knock it off with the pity party.”
You may have heard this refrain. You may have even sung it yourself. So let’s look at this question for a moment: Are atheists subjected to real discrimination?
It’s certainly true that, in the United States, while atheists do experience real discrimination, it’s typically not as severe as, say, racism or misogyny. Or rather, since I don’t think comparing discriminations is usually all that useful: Anti-atheist discrimination takes different forms. It’s not like the systematic economic apartheid African Americans experience, or the systematic enforcement of rigid gender roles women experience. It takes other forms: such as social ostracism; bullying in schools; public schools denying atheist students the right to form clubs; religious proselytizing promoted by the government; widespread perceptions of atheists as untrustworthy; businesses denying equal access to atheists and atheist organizations; government promotion of religion in social service programs; government promotion of religion in the military. And it’s true that atheists have significant legal protection in the United States: people sometimes break those laws, and those laws aren’t always enforced, but we do have these laws, and they do help.
But the United States isn’t the whole world.
The International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU), a world umbrella group bringing together more than a hundred humanist, atheist, rationalist, secularist, and freethought organizations from 40 countries, has just produced the first ever report focusing on how countries around the world discriminate against non-religious people. Published on December 10 to mark Human Rights Day, the Freedom of Thought 2012: A Global Report on Discrimination Against Humanists, Atheists and the Non-religious:
…covers laws affecting freedom of conscience in 60 countries and lists numerous individual cases where atheists have been prosecuted for their beliefs in 2012. It reports on laws that deny atheists’ right to exist, curtail their freedom of belief and expression, revoke their right to citizenship, restrict their right to marry, obstruct their access to public education, prohibit them from holding public office, prevent them from working for the state, criminalize their criticism of religion, and execute them for leaving the religion of their parents.
And the results are appalling.
There are two big take-home messages from this report. One: This is a world-wide issue. Examples of anti-atheist discrimination have been reported in 60 countries, from Algeria to Zambia; including the Bahamas, Brazil, Bahrain, and Belize; Italy, India, Israel, Iceland; the United Kingdom and the United States. It’s been reported in brutal theocracies notorious for their human rights violations, like Pakistan and Iran — and it’s been reported in supposed secular paradises, like Sweden and France. It’s worse in some countries than others, obviously… but this is a global problem.
Two: In some countries, this anti-atheist discrimination is severe. It doesn’t take the form of government proselytizing or being denied the right to organize clubs. It takes the form of being arrested. It takes the form of being imprisoned, for years. It takes the form of being targeted by a mob screaming for your blood… and when the police who should be there to protect you show up, instead they throw you in jail. Where another mob forms up, screaming for your blood.
Don’t believe me? Here are six outrageous examples of discrimination against non-believers.
Thus begins my latest piece for AlterNet, 6 Outrageous Incidents of Discrimination Against Nonbelievers. To find out more about discrimination and human rights violations against atheists around the world — in countries from Indonesia to Poland, Italy to Egypt, Turkey to Tunisia, Zambia to Mauritania, India to Greece — read the rest of the piece. (And yay for me writing for AlterNet again! Feeling closer to being back in the saddle every day.)