The Humanist Crisis Response program of the Foundation Beyond Belief is taking donations to help victims of the Oklahoma tornado. Your donations will be directed to Operation USA and Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma. Please help if you can. Thanks.
The Humanist Crisis Response program of the Foundation Beyond Belief is taking donations to help victims of the Oklahoma tornado. Your donations will be directed to Operation USA and Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma. Please help if you can. Thanks.
You can’t make this stuff up. And you wouldn’t want to.
Via Public Shaming, which I found via FreakOutNation: Tim Lambesis, the lead singer and co-founder of the Christian heavy metal band As I Lay Dying, was arrested Wednesday for allegedly trying to hire a hit man to murder his estranged wife. Many of his fans have been defending him… not by saying, “This is impossible, he’s a good person, he would never do something like this, it must be some sort of horrible mistake”… but by saying that the victim of the intended murder was a “bitch,” a “cunt,” a “slut,” “crazy,” “annoying,” a “crazy hoe,” who “probably deserved it.”
Oh — and by saying, “God help all feminists from my wrath if I never hear another new As I Lay Dying album because of some slut.” Because opposition to murder for hire is totally an extremist feminazi plot.
“Still in shock about the Tim Lambesis arrest. His wife must have been one hell of a bitch for him want try and do that!” [Read more...]
I don’t know what to say or do about the Boston Marathon thing. But I’m feeling a pointless urge to say or do something. Here are a few scattered thoughts.
Boston Red Cross is reporting that they have enough blood for now. If you’re not in the Boston area, donate blood anyway. It helps the entire nation’s blood supply. If you are in Boston, donate in a week or two.
The Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (@MassEMA) tweets: If you are trying to reach friends or family and can’t get through via phone, try texing instead (less bandwidth).
@MassEMA also tweets: RedCross Safe and Well is active. Individuals can register themselvs as safe or search for loved ones at redcross.org/safeandwell
And this, from me:
I am trying extremely hard to not jump to conclusions about who did this and why, based on my pre-existing beliefs and prejudices. Many people leaped to conclusions about who was responsible for the Oklahoma City bombing, and most of those conclusions were dead wrong. For the record, my pre-existing beliefs and prejudices are probably somewhat different from those held by most Americans… but I’m not going to pat myself on the back for being differently prejudiced. I am doing my best to be a good skeptic, and recognize my cognitive biases and my tendency to jump to conclusions and rationalize them afterwards, and I am trying to hold off on any guessing about who did this and why, or any commentary based on my uneducated guesses, and wait until we have actual information. I’d like to suggest that everyone reading this do the same.
If you’re suddenly feeling like life is very fragile and very precious right now, and these feelings are motivating you to take action… tell someone you love that you love them. Be kind to a stranger. Donate money to a cause you care about.
And finally, because I think we may need it right now, here are some cute pictures of cats.
If you have pets, pet them extra today.
I am sick to death of the idea that “it’s just comedy” somehow gives you a free pass when you’re saying things that are racist and sexist.
And I am sick to death of the idea that any transgression of social norms — no matter what those norms are, or why they exist — automatically transforms you into a comedic genius.
I thought I didn’t have anything to say about Seth MacFarlane’s performance as Oscar host that Spencer Kornhaber at The Atlantic didn’t already say. If you haven’t read his piece, read it now. Money quote:
It shouldn’t be hard to come up with a sensible position on this. Everything, including punchlines about the Jews cutting non-Jews out of Hollywood, snickers about women faking the flu to lose weight, and cracks that there’s no need to try to understand what Salma Hayek’s saying because she’s so hot, is “OK.” It’s a free country, etc. But that doesn’t mean those jokes aren’t hurtful, obvious, or dumb. It doesn’t mean they don’t make the world a worse place. Humor, after all, can be an incredible weapon for social progress, but it can also be regressive: The more we pass off old stereotypes, rooted in hate, as normal—as MacFarlane did again and again last night—the longer those stereotypes, and their ability to harm people, will be in place.
But I’m realizing — after linking to Kornhaber’s piece on Facebook and getting into depressingly predictable debates as a result — that I do have something else to say. It’s this:
I am sick to death of the idea that “it’s just comedy” somehow gives you a free pass when you’re saying things that are racist and sexist. And I am sick to death of the idea that any transgression of social norms automatically transforms you into a comedic genius.
Yes, artistic freedom in comedy depends on the ability to say or do anything, even if it runs counter to social norms. That’s true of any art form. Comedy isn’t special in that regard. And yes, of course, comedians should have the legal right to say whatever they want (within the obvious limits of libel laws and copyright laws and such).
Does this mean that comedians should get a free pass when the things they say and do are screwed-up? Does it mean that comedians — or any artists — should be exempt from criticism when the things they say and do dehumanize, trivialize, shame, reinforce harmful stereotypes, support and rationalize the unequal status quo, and otherwise injure entire groups of people? Especially groups of people who have already been hurt a whole hell of a lot, in this exact same way, for centuries?
I think there’s a bad logical fallacy that some comedians make. They think that being transgressive and cutting-edge and iconoclastic typically means offending people… and that therefore, if you’re offending people, it somehow automatically makes you transgressive and cutting-edge and iconoclastic. They think that because they’re offending people and making them angry, it means they’re Lenny Bruce.
It doesn’t work that way. To be iconoclastic, you have to destroy icons. To be cutting-edge, you have to push cultural boundaries in a way that moves society forward. To be transgressive — at least, to be transgressive in a meaningful way — you have to cross lines and break rules that deserve to be broken and crossed.
And to be Lenny Bruce, it’s not enough simply to offend people. You also have to be brilliant. To be Lenny Bruce, it’s not enough simply to say things nobody else will say. You have to say things nobody else will say — and which are also the truth.
The notion, expressed in Seth MacFarlane’s Oscar performance, that all African-Americans look alike? That Hispanics are hard to understand, but that’s okay as long as they’re attractive to look at? That women are unforgiving in relationships, and never let go of anything? That Hollywood is run by a Jewish cabal that only hires other Jews? That the nudity of female actresses exists primarily for the sexual enjoyment of men?
That’s not breaking icons. It’s reinforcing them. That’s not pushing our culture forward. It’s dragging us backward.
It’s not brilliant.
And it’s not true.
What’s more: I’m sick to death of the notion that, if you critique something a comedian says or does for being hurtful and fucked up, you need to “lighten up,” “stop taking things so seriously,” and “get a sense of humor.” I remember years ago, Pedro Almodovar responded to feminist critiques of one of his movies (the critiques had to do with rape jokes, if I recall correctly) by saying something along the lines of, “Why are feminists like this? Isn’t it possible to be a feminist and still have a sense of humor?” To which I wanted to respond, “Isn’t it possible to have a sense of humor and still not think your jokes are funny?” This idea that having a sense of humor means giving all comedians a free pass on criticism for anything they say, ever… it’s bullshit. It’s a “Shut up, that’s why” argument. It’s a reflexive attempt to shut down any criticism — artistic as well as political or moral — before it ever starts.
Well, you don’t get to have it both ways. You don’t get to say that comedy is an important form of artistic expression, a valuable contribution to our cultural landscape in which artistic freedom is necessary and paramount… and then say that everyone just needs to lighten up, and what comedians say and do isn’t that big a deal, and it’s ridiculous to call them to account for it.
Some social norms are there for a reason. The social pressure to (for instance) not act like a racist asshole — that’s there for a reason. It’s there because racism is bad. It’s there because, as a society, we are in the process of changing our minds about race… and exerting social pressure against racist ideas and behavior is part of how we learn to do that, and teach each other to do it.
And this idea that any violation of social norms automatically makes you courageous and transgressive… it’s childish. It’s adolescent. It’s a cheap, easy way to make yourself feel rebellious and edgy… when you’re actually squarely in the center, reinforcing the very structures you’re pretending to rebel against.
An atheist says Bishop Gene Robinson’s new book, “God Believes in Love,” has some major flaws.
How do we convince religious believers to accept same-sex marriage?
The opposition to LGBT rights in general, and to same-sex marriage in particular, overwhelmingly comes from conservative religion, founded in the religious belief that gay sex makes baby Jesus cry. So if same-sex marriage proponents want to persuade religious believers to support same-sex marriage… how can we do that? Should we keep our argument entirely secular, and stay away from the whole question of religious belief? Or should we try to persuade them that God is on our side?
Lots of people make the second argument. Bishop Gene Robinson is one of them. And Bishop Robinson is a man to be taken seriously. The first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church, Bishop Robinson has been active in progressive political activism for many years: he is a fellow at the Center for American Progress, is co-author of three AIDS education curricula for youth and adults, has done AIDS work in the United States and in Africa, and famously delivered the invocation at President Obama’s opening inaugural ceremonies in 2009. He’s recently written a book, published by Knopf and widely reviewed and well-received: God Believes in Love: Straight Talk About Gay Marriage. Aimed at religious believers who oppose same-sex marriage or are on the fence about it, the book makes a Christian case for same-sex marriage: “a commonsense, reasoned, religious argument made by someone who holds the religious text of the Bible to be holy and sacred and the ensuing two millennia of church history to be relevant to the discussion.”
And I think this is a terrible, terrible idea.
I am an ardent supporter of same-sex marriage. What with being married to a woman and all. I agree fervently that same-sex marriage deserves fully equal legal and social recognition with opposite-sex marriage, and I am very glad to see Bishop Robinson, and anyone else, advocating for it in the public arena.
But the argument he makes in his new book, God Believes in Love, disturbs me greatly. I am deeply disturbed by the idea that God, or any sort of religious or spiritual belief, should have anything to do with the question of same-sex marriage. I am deeply disturbed by the idea that any decision about politics, law, public policy, or morality should ever be based on what’s supposedly going on in God’s head. I agree completely with Bishop Robinson’s conclusion about same-sex marriage — but I am passionately opposed to the method by which he’s reached it, and the arguments he’s making to advance it.
Thus begins my latest piece for AlterNet, Gay Bishop Comes Up With the Worst Argument to Support Same-Sex Marriage. To find out why I think God should have nothing to do with the debate over same-sex marriage — including for same-sex marriage proponents, whether they’re religious believers or not — read the rest of the piece. Enjoy!
The Boy Scouts of America are soliciting public opinion on their policy of discriminating against gay people. Ideally they shouldn’t have to do this — they should just be able to figure out that this is wrong — but the reality is that we do often calibrate our moral compasses, at least partly, based on what other people think. (Which isn’t an entirely bad thing: I’ve certainly had friends talk me down from moral ledges before.)
As it happen, the Boy Scouts discriminate against atheists as well as gay people. They’re not soliciting moral feedback on that topic… but I think it’s a good idea to give it to them anyway. If we start putting it on their radar now, maybe in a couple of decades they’ll get the clue, the way they’re just now beginning to maybe catch up with the rest of the world on gay rights.
You can chime in by emailing [email protected], or by calling 972-580-2330. I just sent them this email, and thought some of you might like to see it.
I understand that the Boy Scouts are taking a poll to find out public opinion on the Boy Scouts current policy of discriminating against gay people. I am writing to express my fervent opposition to this policy — as well as to the Boy Scouts policy of discriminating against atheists. Discrimination does not make people trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, or brave. It is not a value the Boy Scouts should be teaching. Thank you.
Wow. They’re really getting desperate.
Headline and subhead from the Los Angeles Times:
Gay marriage opponents take unusual tack with Supreme Court
Lawyers defending the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Prop. 8 argue that marriage should be limited to opposite-sex unions because they alone can ‘produce unplanned and unintended offspring.’
“It is plainly reasonable for California to maintain a unique institution [referring to marriage] to address the unique challenges posed by the unique procreative potential of sexual relationships between men and women,” argued Washington attorney Charles J. Cooper, representing the defenders of Proposition 8. Same-sex couples need not be included in the definition of marriage, he said, because they “don’t present a threat of irresponsible procreation.”
Wow. Just… wow.
This argument is so stupid, so desperate, I almost wondered for a moment if these lawyers were deliberately tanking their own case.
I mean… set aside, for the moment, the notion that the primary purpose of marriage is the shotgun wedding. Set aside, for the moment, the notion the primary purpose of marriage is to encourage people to stick together who otherwise wouldn’t want to, because they “irresponsibly” (their word, not mine) got pregnant. (A notion that’s grossly insulting to just about every married person — including the straight ones. Okay, I’m not doing a very good job of setting it aside, am I?)
According to this logic, these folks should be proposing a ban on marriage for infertile straight people. After all, if the primary purpose of marriage is to encourage couples to stay together if they unintentionally get pregnant, there’s no reason for infertile straight people to be married. If you’ve had a hysterectomy, if you’ve had a double orchiectomy, if you’re post-menopausal, if you have untreatable erectile dysfunction, if for any other reason you can’t conceive children without “substantial advance planning” (again, their words)… no marriage for you. You’re not who marriage was made for.
Oh, it doesn’t make sense to have a separate legal category for infertile straight couples? It’s okay to let infertile straight couples slip in through the cracks, even though they’re not who marriage was made for, because it doesn’t make sense to have a separate legal category for them? Then why on Earth does it make sense to have a separate legal category for same-sex couples?
In a weird way, this argument makes me hopeful. Because you know what? They are desperate. They are grasping at straws. They got nothin’. They are proving to everyone with a shred of sense that the opposition to same-sex marriage is bankrupt. It’s morally bankrupt, and it’s logically bankrupt. Once they let go of the religious arguments — once they let go of “Gay marriage makes Baby Jesus cry,” since that really isn’t going to fly in front of the Supreme Court — their arguments become increasingly contorted, increasingly stupid, increasingly laughable, increasingly desperate.
They got nothin’.
Let’s just hope that the Supreme Court sees that.
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.
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.)
I have very little to say right now about the Newtown shootings. Except maybe this:
It is fucking well not too soon to start talking about gun control.
When abortion clinics are bombed, we start talking right away. When Hurricane Katrina happened and the levees broke, we started talking right away. When terrible tragedies happen, and we think they might have been preventable, we start talking right away about what we might to do prevent them from happening again. When terrible tragedies happen, and human beings are fully or even partly responsible, we start talking right away about what we might to do prevent ourselves and each other from doing that again. We may disagree, passionately even, about how the tragedy might have been prevented, and what prevention methods we might consider, and whether those methods would be effective, and whether the cure would be worse than the disease.
But when terrible tragedies happen, we use our grief, and our rage, and our shock, to drive us to action.
That is not the worst of us. It is the best.
I don’t know what exactly I want to say about gun control, except that I’m for it. But as many people have been saying in the last few hours: It is not too soon to start talking about gun control. It is too late.
There’s a good conversation over on Pharyngula. Check it out. Or talk here if you like. But if you talk here, do it kindly. I don’t have the strength or the stomach right now to moderate a flame war. Thanks.