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God Does Not Love Trans People

He doesn’t love anyone. He’s not there at all.

I’m sorry.

Lately there have been a number of posts circulating throughout the trans blogosphere making statements to the effect that God loves and accepts His transgender children, and that being trans is not necessarily in conflict with being a religious believer, or even a Christian, Muslim or Jew. While I perfectly understand the motivation behind these posts, and why people feel such a strong need for this message, I nonetheless find it very deeply problematic, and kinda sorta feel a bit of a compelling need to address it. See, I honestly believe that religious faith is inherently dangerous and harmful, that we, the queer community, often are especially victimized by it, and especially ought to understand its potential harms, that the danger is an element of the underlying definition of religious faith itself rather than simply particular sects, beliefs or institutions based upon it, and that we are doing ourselves a pretty big disservice in constructing apologetics (or encouraging them) designed to ease the dissonance between our identities and the belief systems we hold dear.

That dissonance is a gift.

I believe there is something both tragic but very human to it, as well. Something reminiscent of a victim of abuse, long after escaping the relationship, still on some level wanting to feel forgiven and loved by her abuser.

Given that I’m an atheist blogger, on a prominent “new atheist” network, who is very committed in that aspect of her beliefs, it was more or less inevitable that I’d have to address this issue sooner or later, even though when compared to people like PZ Myers and Greta Christina, I’m a very soft-spoken, wimpy, spineless sort of atheist, who rarely openly expresses her rage and anger. But the reason I’m doing this now, and risking the fall-out it could trigger, is because this past week has seen the question of God’s love of trans people or lack thereof, and the relationship between transgenderism and religion, come much more out in the open than it typically is. Right now, the question isn’t a spooky background noise, it’s a big scary monster jumping out at me.

The first of these posts initiating this discussion was by the typically wonderful Monica Roberts of Transgriot. It’s an excellent blog, and provides a much-needed voice from trans women of colour. I can’t, however, simply look the other way when people I respect (no matter how much) begin openly supporting ideas I find deeply problematic and dangerous. Shortly after, on Wednesday, this post appeared on Liar, Lunatic Or Lorax, featuring a collection of links geared specifically towards reconciling transgenderism and religious belief. Later that day, Jillian Page, a lovely woman who I once had the privilege of meeting very briefly at a TDOR event in Berri Square, and blogger with the Montreal Gazette, threw her own two cents in.

To be honest, I’ve been, and still am, very, very nervous about writing this post. Like I said, as far as Gnu Atheists go, I’m wimpy as they get. I know some people are going to be very hurt and angered by this. Some people are going to feel threatened or attacked. I’m going to alienate some of my readers and supporters.

Even simply suggesting on twitter that I was planning this response ended up resulting in some extremely angry reactions from some of my allies in the trans community, like Stephen Ira and Ira Gray. I was accused of arrogance, ethnocentrism, imperialism, shallowness, never having thought about the race or class implications of atheism and religion, ignorance of the more complex aspects theology such as theodicy (NOT relevant to my criticisms), and confusing the institutions of Abrahamic religions with religion itself (which I was not… when I say I think all religious faith is dangerous, I mean I think all religious faith is dangerous, up to and including non-abrahamic, non-organized, and even highly personal forms of religious faith).

But I need to speak about this. I feel it’s important. When I see problematic and potentially very dangerous, harmful ideas being uncritically accepted by our community, and what critical examination is voiced being met with outright hostility, that is something I need to address, no matter how much controversy it risks, or what friends I may lose.

The reason I find these assertions of God’s love for trans people, or the compatibility of religious belief with being transgender, problematic is not anything as direct or basic as the way that most mainstream forms of Abrahamic religions have targeted and victimized LGBTQ people (though that certainly relates and I do find this adds a particularly tragic dimension to it, as noted above). If that were the case, then presenting alternative religions without this history of discrimination would be a sufficient challenge to my claim that religious faith is itself dangerous and harmful. And if that were the case, creating new variants of religion that are accepting of queer identities would be a beneficial and worthwhile thing to do.

But as much as it may be a bad habit of the atheist movement in general, I am not confusing “religion” with “Christianity”. My attitude does not single out Christianity for criticism. My criticism is towards religious faith itself. And in fact, my attitude is not based on any special or unique animosity towards religion, but rather due to refusing to provide special deference of special consideration towards those beliefs, ideas and concepts that are deemed religious or spiritual. Instead, I choose to hold such beliefs, ideas and concepts to the same standards I hold all beliefs, ideas and concepts.

I identify as a skeptic first, atheist later. Skepticism is a process of remembering to question assumptions, to hesitate, to doubt, to consider other possibilities. You weigh those possibilities based on evidence and thought, and come to a tentative conclusion, which is open to being modified. It’s a system of precaution, designed to cope with how irrational and silly our brains can be, how quick we are to base our beliefs only on what we want to believe rather than what makes the most sense, and how incredibly fallible our perceptions, perspectives and interpretations are. Our brains are inefficient, gooey little things that do lots of weird things, and aren’t remotely up to the epistemological demands we place on them. So… skepticism. It helps.

That could be our motto, actually. “Skepticism. It helps”. What do you think?

In the same way that I am a feminist because that is where I arrived through applying skepticism and critical thought to gender, I am only an atheist because that is where I arrived through applying skepticism and critical thought to questions of the divine. I consider all ideas the same way. And when applying thought to the question of God or gods, and holding those questions to the same standards I hold any other, the conclusion one arrives at is that as emotionally and psycho-socially rewarding as a belief in God may be, there’s just no good reason to trust that assumption. In terms of the observable world, there’s no evidence supporting it, and plenty of evidence counter-indicating most religion’s conceptions of it. And in terms of the “unknowable”, and that which we can’t possibly understand or observe, there’s no reason to worry about it. It might as well not be there. “That of which we cannot speak we must remain silent.”

Faith is the opposite of skepticism. Faith is “just knowing”. Under ideal circumstances, a person derives their conclusions from observations, facts and thinking things through. If new perspectives, new ideas, new considerations, new arguments, new observations or new facts come along, we adapt the conclusion. Faith asks us instead to work backwards. We have the conclusion already. Thought, perspectives, observations, facts and interpretations are structured to support the conclusion. Facts that contradict it are either denied, or re-interpreted and re-framed until they can fit with the original conclusion. For instance, if the initial conclusion is that God created man and woman, and for a man to don a woman’s clothing is a sin, then suddenly finding yourself trans puts you in conflict with the conclusion your faith states MUST be the case. So instead of reconsidering the initial conclusion, and accepting that maybe the whole God thing isn’t quite right, you either adapt the facts (suppressing your trans identity and attempting to conform) or you re-interpret and contort your perspective until it all fits together somehow. He made you this way because He loves you. He made you this way to test your strength. He made you this way because suffering brings you closer to Him. Etc.

Faith is dangerous because it is the opposite of thought. Because it deliberately silences, halts, and suppresses thought. It asks us to simply accept, and not to question. It says that evidence is unnecessary. It becomes a belief that is “above” criticism. Therefore any action taken on account of that belief does not need to consider its consequences, its danger, or who it harms. You don’t consider anything at all, really. All the usual intellectual and ethical precautions that keep us from making mistakes get thrown aside. You “just know”. Like George W. Bush “just knew” the invasion of Iraq was the right thing to do.

I do not believe religion is the root of all evil. But I believe absolute certainty is the root of a whole lot of it. The failure to accept the possibility that you have things wrong is the fastest track to doing something terrible. Faith deliberately suppresses the considerations and checks that keep us from absolute certainty.

Questioning things is extremely important, as is being able to adapt our ideas. For a long, long time, the basic assumption, taken on faith, was that human beings are divided into two binary, discrete genders. All of us trans people are intimately aware of the incredible harm and suffering that has been done to maintain this unexamined assumption. Why accept the danger of unexamined assumptions, the importance of questioning, and the value of being open to reconsidering your views under most circumstances, but when the question concerns the spiritual, we then take the opposite position and suddenly embrace faith- “just knowing”? Like how others “just know” that if you have a penis you’re a man and if you have a vagina you’re a woman (“it’s common sense!”)? What makes religious ideas any different than others, and creates a different standard by which they should be challenged or considered? Why offer them this special deference? Just because people feel strongly about it? Some people feel very strongly about how much they hate trannies, too.

I’ve talked before about how adopting the language of religious dogma in order to challenge it, such as asking Christians to be more like Christ bears the risk of them following that towards a different interpretation of Christ than the one we had in mind (such as the infinitely tolerant and forgiving all-loving dude on a permanent ecstasy roll), and I’ve also talked before about how even moderate and level-headed versions of religious belief help insulate and normalize the more dangerous religious believers, and how while religion doesn’t always result in harm that doesn’t mean it’s harmless. Religion doesn’t really make a good person any more good, nor does it really make a good person bad, but it can definitely make a bad person a lot more dangerous, by giving them conviction, certainty, and an excuse.

Queer people ought especially understand the danger of giving people an unassailable justification, having someone have a “higher power” to claim is above the ethics of our world. Many of us have been killed on account of such absolute convictions, and the decision not to question the orders from on high. I have trouble understanding how any queer person can not be keenly aware of how dangerous this kind of thinking is, not be afraid of it, or even make excuses for it.

These considerations are in play here as well… saying “God loves trans people” has absolutely no more underlying justification, evidence or substance than does “God hates fags”. Neither party has any evidence on which to base this, and both are just extrapolations based on assuming God’s will ought reflect their own. We cannot possibly know how God feels about anyone (entertaining briefly the possibility that He even exists). When you introduce “God loves trans people” into the dialogue, you have nothing backing you up with which to cause a transphobic religious believer to accept your message or reconsider their position, but you have just validated, supported and helped normalize his belief in God- a God that he probably thinks hates us very, very much. Congrats! You spur on religious belief which, more often than not, maintains a climate of bigotry towards LGBTQ individuals. You insulate and protect them. You assent to the foundations of their hate, which they claim as justification. Asserting there is a God, and supporting the human tendency towards religious faith (whatever its form), does nothing but bolster the underlying principles on which the Westboro Baptist Church is based. If we wish to fight these organizations, we can’t do so simply pitting our own intuitive, faith-based assumption of God against theirs. We need to attack the foundation: the idea that faith is a good, or at least harmless, thing, and that God’s will is what matters and takes precedence over secular considerations and ethics like “hey, maybe it’s kinda uncool to go around hating the fuck out of people just because they happen to have a non-normative gender or sexuality. Maybe instead of worrying so much about the unknowable divine, we might try to make things in this world not so shitty for queer folk”.

I honestly have no idea why contemporary Abrahamic religion has tended towards such hatred of queer people. It’s not treated the same way in all religious circumstances, and there are some religions where it was offered varying degrees of conditional acceptance… the trans priestesses of Cybele in ancient Greece, India’s Hjira, the eunuchs in certain contexts of Christianity and Islam, the Two-Spirit identities in various First Nations spiritual systems, similar beliefs in early Norse paganism wherein those who could transcend the boundaries between genders were supposed to be better able to transcend the boundaries between the material and immaterial worlds, etc. But in all of these contexts you can still find mistreatment of queer people justified by faith, and faith itself… faith does not bode well for trans folk, particularly in our current culture.

Faith leans towards intuitions. And queerness is always counter-intuitive. It by definition exists in contradiction to the assumed norms of gender and sexuality. The common sense remark earlier? Faith and common sense have a lot in common. “Common sense” takes something as a given rather than critically examining it. “Common sense” suggests trans identities are not legitimate. It says it’s silly to question whether men are really men and women are really women. It says vagina = woman, penis = man. It says that homosexuality is aberrant and wrong. But not simply accepting intuitions and common sense… valuing questions, thought, diverse perspectives, diverse experiences, reconsideration, fighting against the myths and superstitions and misunderstandings with education and facts… that is how we’ll build acceptance for queer people.

So why the hostility towards my saying I was going to write this article? Why did trans people react so negatively? Especially considering the brutality with which LGBTQ people have been treated by religion, and how much religion has been and remains the primary obstacle in our struggle for equality and basic human rights. Why was my statement that all religious faith is dangerous casually said to “reek of ethnocentrism”? Why did people immediately jump to such vitriolic and harsh assumptions about my motive and position? A lot of the arguments that seemed to pop up are articulated in this piece by Morgan M. Page, Queerly Religious, on Pretty Queer. Most of the time, I think Pretty Queer is pretty good, it even features occasional contributions from Imogen Binnie who is quite possibly one of my favourite people in the universe, and I do respect Ms. Page quite a bit, but in this piece…well… she kind of makes a lot of really offensive assumptions about queer atheists. Which seem to be assumptions entrenched amongst a lot of queer folk who are sympathetic towards religious belief.

Her principal argument seems hinged on the assumption that all queer atheists have negative attitudes towards religion merely because they’ve made the mistake of confusing religion in general with “The Big Three”, and more so the institutions surrounding them. As I said earlier, that is simply not the case. When I say all religion I do mean all religion.

Buddhism is often held up amongst more left-wing circles (such as the queer community) as an example of a religion that is “harmless”, and can mesh with our current post-modern moralities and worldviews. But I don’t for a second believe that Buddhism doesn’t carry the same dangers. I don’t for a second believe that there has never been a rapist in a Buddhist culture who told his victim to not worry or be so upset, because after all, this world is merely illusion and dust. Buddhism holds many of the same destructive attitudes as does Christianity in terms of accepting whatever horrible situation has been inflicted upon you in this world and to not ask for better because this world doesn’t really count. Like Christianity, it teaches us not to work towards improving our world and our lives and taking joy in it but instead to invest our hope in the possibility that there’s “something else”. Like Christianity, it teaches us to feel ashamed of our desires. Like Christianity, it teaches us that suffering and ascetism are to be embraced as holy. Like Christianity, it has a strong current of patriarchy and positions men above women in its institutional ranks. Like Christianity it teaches us not to be concerned with “worldly matters”… like say the fact that our body does not match our gender. Etc.

No. ALL religion is dangerous. The ONLY way that I honestly accept Buddhism as being a bit less harmful than Christianity is on the basis that it encourages actual thought and meditation rather than just accepting scripture. It’s also more philosophically sophisticated. So like some of the more scholarly branches of Judaism, it has the benefit of not teaching the rejection of thought and exploration wholesale. But it still ultimately places those holy ancient teachings as paramount and unassailable. Thought is good, but only in the context of thinking about your faith, within the assumptions of that faith. It still asks you to “just know” stuff. Still claims that much of what it says is “beyond” human understanding and thought and questioning and insight, but at the same time also claims to know the nature of those things that are beyond human understanding, thought, questioning, criticism and insight.

So on this basis at least, my disdain for religious faith is not ethnocentric. It is dispersed globally.

Page also argues about how religion has at times been used an instrument of protecting queer people, and pushing for their rights. That in some situations, communities, cultures and points in history, certain religions or religious structures were the only safety and support that queer people had.

This is a valid point and she’s correct. But it doesn’t address any of the problems with faith that I’ve described. Guns and bombs have been used in the service of just revolutions and wars. But that does not make guns and bombs harmless and snuggly. The fact that something can occasionally be used for just ends does not make it any less dangerous or capable of being used for unjust ends. And like guns, more often than not, religion is not put to service for the protection of the weak and vulnerable. Like guns, more often than not, religion is put to service to maintain the positions of the strong and powerful.

Another thing I find very troubling and offensive about Page’s post is how she sneeringly describes atheism as “trendy”. You know where I’ve seen this tactic before, being used to belittle someone’s identity and act like rather than being a genuine expression of self it’s only trying to hop on a hipster bandwagon? It’s exactly what I’ve seen said of “trendy” queer people. In the same tone. For the same purposes. It’s also a “Shut Up, That’s Why”. “Psssh… why should I listen to this. You’re just trying to be cool. But I’m above all that.”

I do perfectly understand the way that challenging religion and describing it as dangerous or harmful can be threatening. Really, I do. It’s a challenge to something that is deeply interwoven with an individual’s identity. This is part of how religion works, in fact… these are ideas that have survived and propagated precisely because they offer a great deal of emotional, psychological and cultural rewards and comfort, while exacting considerable emotional, psychological and cultural costs to give up.

These challenges to religion can end up becoming particularly threatening and hurtful when speaking to communities for whom religion plays more than simply a dogmatic or institutional role. This is particularly true when speaking of people of colour and other minorities.

In such situations, faith and religion is not simply a governing institution or weekly lesson in what you are and aren’t supposed to do or be. For minority groups, under threat of larger and more powerful majority cultures, religion can provide a glue that holds the community together, and through which the communal identity can be enacted and maintained despite the threat of assimilation (or annihilation).

When such communities and groups are under threat from a privileged majority, just as trans people are, it becomes very difficult to extricate criticism of the dangerous aspects of the religion, dogma or faith from what may be ethnocentric bigotry, or desires to impose one culture upon another.

But just as recognizing cissexist or heteronormative bias amongst the privileged is not necessarily an attack upon cis or straight individuals, or an attack upon cisgenderism and heterosexuality itself, it is entirely possible to look at the problematic aspects of religion or faith without that being a criticism of religious believers, or a criticism of whatever positive things are often attached to religion, such as community identity, art, music, poetry, ritual, myth, metaphor, morality, charity, etc.

(it bears note that I believe each and every one of those things is possible in a secular context. Everything good that can occur in both secular and religious contexts, like art and charity, and everything bad that can occur in both contexts, like genocide and bigotry, are irrelevant to the discussion of the pros and cons of religion)

When we position atheism as somehow a “white, privileged” thing, and imagine that the religious beliefs of people of colour are somehow different, and need to left alone,we also buy into some seriously messed up racial narratives. It’s imagining a fundamental Other, and a racial essentialism. It enacts the concept that science, rationality and education are for the whites while the racial out groups are “soulful”, “intuitive”. It helps maintain the distribution of education only to the privileged, while excluding PoC from these discourses as though they can’t be expected to keep up.

A trans latina e-friend of mine has been tweeting a bit with me a bit about how this kind of attitude can end up seeming deeply patronizing and appropriative. As though we need to handle the “poor trans women of colour” with kid gloves, like they can’t understand these concepts the same way we do. Pushing them away and deepening our enactment of their identities as Other even as we claim to be doing this “for” them, to “protect” them from those atheist meanies who “forcefully” take away the religion they “need” due to their more vulnerable position. All the while happily criticizing the religious institutions of white culture (Christianity) but treating religions of The Other as different, deserving of deference (or even reverence), not to be questioned or held up to critical inquiry.

A very key concept here is the accusations against atheism that it is colonial or imperial in nature seeking to convert people to a particular cultural view. Atheism does not seek to “convert” in any meaningful sense. Religion creates converts through emotional manipulation and other more overt forms of coercion. Atheism simply discusses, educates and asks you to think things through for yourself. It does not make any promises, like “we’ll rid of suffering!” “you’ll find everlasting life!” or “you’ll attain enlightenment and inner peace!”, nor does it make any threats like “you’ll go to Hell!” or “you’ll be endlessly reborn into lives of anxiety, desperation and suffering!”. It just asks questions, and asks you to ask yourself questions.

But from the position taken by this sort of critique of atheism, ANY act of attempting to share ideas is somehow colonial, imperial or coercive. Which ends up being awfully hypocritical in terms of how they are attempting to “coerce” me into agreeing with their position that I should not question religion… those darned privileged religion-apologists! Imperialistically imposing their accomodationist dogma on me! Grrr! (shaky fist)

And so the wheel turns, and we find a means of positioning religion again as above questioning, again acting like we ought to hold some ideas to a different standard than others. Treat some as special and off limits and not to be discussed. Treat some beliefs as “just is” and some claims as okay to make without any substantiation, even if those beliefs and claims bring harm to others. And so the same old concepts and habits remain entrenched, and religion finds a post-modern armor to protect it from a post-modern world: “respect for other cultures”.

Funnily enough, I’m a lot more post-modernist in my general attitudes and worldview than most people in the skeptic and atheist movement. I believe very strongly in the importance of recognizing the influence of one’s subject position. But the moment I stop believing that’s the priority, and start feeling other considerations take precedence, is when it starts being used as a means of shutting down dialogue, silencing criticism, and telling us not to question, not to think, and not to raise our voices when we see a problem. That’s when I’m more than happy to ditch awareness of relativism and insist on the right to dialogue. I will question other cultures to the same extent I question my own. No more, no less.

This brings us around, though, to the issue of why this all emerges so strongly in the trans community. Why, if we have been so thoroughly victimized by religion in the past, and religion has been used as justification for institutionalized discrimination, denial of our rights, denial of our identities, being pushed out of our families and communities, and even being assaulted and murdered why do we go to so much trouble, and to so much risk, to assure ourselves that we are still accepted and loved by this Patriarch, and that we can still find a location within this abusive system of belief? Why when we are the embodiment of what many religions describe as hateful, sinful and wrong, do we still seek to find a place within them?

Although I’ve at length described why my criticism of religion and faith is universally applied to all religion, and not ethnocentrically centered on Judaeo-Christianity, I think this particular issue, emerging as it does from a Christian-dominated culture, is indeed connected to Christianity.

Christianity teaches us to seek acceptance, approval and love through external sources. It teaches to base our sense of worth and goodness on how well we can meet the expectations of an externalized deity representing all the positive assurances that we could provide for ourselves, while assuring us that not seeking this externally but rather accepting ourselves is pride, and a sinful lack of humility before God. It gives an infinite set of sins for which we are to feel as much guilt as possible, inescapable in their breadth, and even if we can avoid them, we are given original sin to feel guilty about. And then it offers the true forgiveness, the only absolution, through its One True Path.

The system is rigged to doubt our own feelings and our own self-worth, and to only seek it through the person that created this system and the feelings of guilt and internalized shame in the first place. We have no control over whether we forgive ourselves, or feel happy and worthwhile and secure in who we are, all of that power is handed over to the external deity, embodied through The Church. It is a classic abusive relationship. Teach the victim to feel no sense of self-worth, and be completely emotionally dependent on the abuser.

This conditioning is very, very, very hard to escape. Much like a victim of abuse may go on hoping her abuser still loves her and forgives her even long after escaping the situation.

And this may be why trans people still want to feel loved and accepted by God, despite how abused we have been by this system of belief. Because we were never empowered or taught to provide acceptance and forgiveness to and for ourselves. Our whole lives were defined by being taught to feel ashamed of who we are. And if the only way we ever learned to feel absolution for guilt and shame is through God, that is where we’ll seek it, even when in every other way we have turned our backs on this system and began the walk towards being proudly who we are.

Trans people, sisters, brothers, neithers, boths… please stop worrying about whether or not God loves you. What matters most is whether or not you love you.

My deepest gratitude to The Crommunist for help with some of the more tricky and sensitive aspects of this post. Anything about this post that pissed you off, feel free to blame it on him. Whatever it was you didn’t like, it was his idea.

Comments

  1. karmakin says

    I myself don’t take such a strict rationalist position. I don’t think that position is wrong, but I don’t think it’s a major driving factor. I think that most people have some form of “irrational” thought in one way or another, and as such I don’t think it’s such a negative meme as the strict rationalist position makes it out to be.

    The problem with religion is the arbitrariness of the rules in and of itself. But this doesn’t have to be the case by definition. Not everybody follows those rules, and one can theoretically imagine religion (and I’m sure those religions exist) which either do not have or downplay those rules. In this way, I do think the problem is very much mono-theistic belief in and of itself. Deistic or pantheistic belief are things in which by themselves, quite frankly, I can’t be bothered to criticize too much. I think they’re false/wrong of course…but again I’m not sure if they actually mean anything in the first place.

    But actual belief in an active, observing, intervening deity, that has told us what it wants? Order Glorifies God. Anything outside that Order is “evil”. To me that’s a truism. It’s 1+1. Unavoidable. And that’s why in the end monotheism is incompatible with positive social change. The core difference between the conservatives and the liberals when it comes to religion is the strength of monotheistic belief.

    Scale matters. Even when it’s the religious.

    P.S. I literally laughed out loud at the thanks at the end.

    • says

      No, the problem with religion is that it’s epistemologically wrong. Even if the rules were less arbitrary, more coherent, it would still be epistemologically wrong. All of us do irrational things, but some of us try to base our worldview and our ethics on something other than bullshit.

      Deistic and pantheistic beliefs are less trouble because their adherents do not have the numbers or power of the monotheists. Buddhism in Asia can be every bit as violent as the Abrahamic religions are.

    • supernova says

      karmakin:

      I think that most people have some form of “irrational” thought in one way or another, and as such I don’t think it’s such a negative meme as the strict rationalist position makes it out to be.

      Religion isn’t just a worse version of the irrationality we all have. It is qualitatively different, how? Because of its defining element: faith. We are all irrational sometimes but it is not the same as religious irrationality because religions protect their irrationality with faith. Faith makes it is virtuous not to question, not to enquire as to whether certain beliefs are accurate – that is why religion, as it is normally defined, is inherently harmful.

  2. says

    I think your readership will take this better than you think. The people really invested in the idea God loves trans people aren’t likely to frequent FTB. From what I’ve seen of Stephen Ira in the past, he does a lot of complaining that other people aren’t being trans right, so I wouldn’t get too worked up about him.

    As for the substantial portion, maybe I’m a cynical pomo, but when I see someone say “God loves X,” I read it as “I like to believe X is good,” and no more. God is just a label put on ideas they aren’t comfortable taking credit for because they would seem bossy. Also, my legal background (IANAL, just took a couple legal classes) tells me simultaneously arguing that God doesn’t exist to disagree with you, but if he did exist, he would agree with you is rhetorically smart, if not something a judge would normally let you get away with.

    • says

      Trans people, sisters, brothers, neithers, boths… please stop worrying about whether or not God loves you. What matters most is whether or not you love you.

      To clarify, I think this is the same question, just worded more honestly in the latter case. When people talk about God’s opinions, they are talking about their own and just trying to make their views look universal and objective.

      • karmakin says

        I agree..sometimes at least. I think there are two distinct types of “God-belief” (of course, like everything else it’s better imagined as a spectrum). There’s a lot of people out there who when they talk about “God” they’re talking just about what is good, or a vague community power or whatever. But there’s also a lot of people out there who when they talk about “God” they’re talking about an intellectual, interventionist manifestation that makes Tim Tebow’s passes go to the right place.

        The problem with these discussions is that there’s a sort of built-in strawman in place…and we didn’t build it. There’s a lot of religious leaders who put a lot of time and energy reinforcing the latter definition when they really mean the former one.

        So a lot of people who would consider themselves Christians (but don’t believe in the latter definition of God), might be offended by what Natalie or PZ or whoever might say, just because when they read “God” they read their vague, possibly even non-supernatural definition and not the strictly supernatural definition that we, and society at large conceives of.

        If that makes any sense.

      • Dalillama says

        The problem is that people tend to ascribe their views to this universal, objective intelligence, and thereby put them beyond question. Whether an individual conceives of their god as a vague deist entity or as an interventionist intelligence, they are still trying to paint their own view as a universal truth.

    • says

      That is really condescending. If you need me to clarify what I mean when I use the word “God,” ask. Don’t assume that you know what I actually mean.

      • brianpansky says

        I find it rather amusing when people use words that are enormously vague and think it’s the responsibility of the *audience* to seek clarification.

      • Besomyka says

        Okay. What do you mean when you say ‘God’?

        And please, if someone else uses it in a what that varies from Lorax, feel free to reply as well so that we’re all on the same page.

        • says

          HA! I am totally stealing that question.

          Believers are just asking too much, really, when they expect us to think that God shares all of their opinions on controversial subjects. I first noticed this phenomenon when I was about eight years old, and my grandfather changed his view on a church doctrine (something regarding cremation, I think.) Lo and behold, grandpa’s version of God changed his viewpoint on the very same day.

  3. Valerie C says

    Personally, in my own experience growing up, religions that promised anything close to a rebirth had alot of pull over me. As trans, we really do take concepts like being “born again” and “reincarnation” very differently then our cis friends. There is that extra layer of appeal to “fix everything” for us. It’s not something a lack of belief can offer which is why there are not alot of trans atheist in comparison.

    • awkwardturtles says

      YES. I was taught growing up that the “new heavens and new earth” promised by Christianity would entail a “new body” too. Can’t say it wasn’t appealing.

  4. says

    “Skepticism. It helps” is potentially a good motto, but it needs an elevator speech, that is, a very brief explanation. I can make one as a shorter version of some things you have said here, but if anyone else wants to make one I can use, that would be nice.

    I can think of one person who is wonderful and uses faith to keep going: she believes that God works through people. She does a lot for people in her community. So when I hear criticisms like this, I think of her. On the other hand, she is I think quite isolated and doesn’t know queer people. But she is quick to love anyone; would she reach out more if she didn’t have faith that she is in the right place, or would she give up? Anyway, I don’t think I know even one other person who has a good use for faith. So, I concede the point that faith probably doesn’t make a good person better. I would still like to hear if you have examples of this, or just logic about how the trade-off works.

    • Besomyka says

      I think that’s an example of a religious belief that is very likely not to be an issue for her. She might misplace her gratitude, however – which may or may not grate on those people she encounters that she sees as God acting through them.

      She would be more accurate to just think that there are some people in the world that truly wish to do good, and have the ability to turn that desire into action. Give the people doing the work the sincere thanks. They might appreciate it.

      Many people of faith don’t have such mostly non-supernatural beliefs, and the farther away form reality they get the more likely that they will have a false expectation, or will act in a way that is incomprehensible to other people.

    • yiab says

      You know, the first time I read this I thought “elevator speech” referred to something rather different.

      Skepticism, it helps.
      Science, it works.

  5. says

    Good for you overcoming your fears related to posting this. Can’t believe all the crap you got accused of just for mentioning you were planning this post. How do you even talk to people like that? (Not a rhetorical question, wish I knew.)

  6. says

    Natalie, I respect your opinion and your stance as an atheist, but I find your dismissal of all non-atheists rather hypocritical. In my post, which you referenced, I explained that I don’t believe in God per se, but I am not an atheist, either. To calify, I am a recovered ex-Christian (one could call me CACAB – coersively assigned Christian at birth,) and am at the beginning of the long journey toward discovering what I believe about what is “out there.”

    And I think it needs to be said that, while yes, blind faith is a terrible and destructive thing, if my honest searching and thought still brings me to believe that there is undoubtedly a God and ze does indeed love trans* people, that belief will not be through a lack of reflection or free thought.

    That is, we don’t all have to agree with you, Natalie, to be free-thinking individuals, just as we don’t all have to agree with the Pope to be saved. If there is a God, then yes, ze does love trans* people.

    • Anders says

      If there is a God, then yes, ze does love trans* people.

      But how do you know that? How does anyone know enough to make a statement like that? To me this is filling in the map before you’ve left home.

      • says

        Exactly. As a person who do not “do faith”, such a statement is completely arbitrary. So is any statement about God, as Natalie pointed out anyway. The problem is not, as she also mentions, the statement in itself, but that it may validate that way of thinking and thus a number of other similarly arbitrary views like “God hate fags”. As freethinkers and critical thinkers we simply cannot do that.

        Faith is not harmless. Most of the time it has no direct harmful consequence, but it is inherently irrational – or if not irrational, self-serving.

        • says

          My argument is that it is possible to be a freethinker and a critical thinker while believing in God. To assume otherwise is incredibly closed-minded.

          • eric says

            Lorax, can I believe in faeries in my garden and be a critical thinker? An invisible dragon in my garage? Harvey the rabbit?

            I think most nonbelievers would say: belief in God has just as much warrant as beliefs in those things. If you want to say that faerie believers aren’t thinking critically about faeries – and most of us probably would want to say that – then you really rationally ought to put God believers in the same boat.

          • 'Tis Himself, OM says

            So you’re selective in what you’re skeptical about and, at least right now, gods are off the table.

          • Besomyka says

            I’m not sure that you’re right about that. Any concept of God that crosses into physical reality (such as responding to prayer, or manifesting physical objects into being) will leave physical signs. The followers of the ‘true’ faith may suffer from cancer at a dramatically lower rate, or may recover at a dramatically higher rate. Thus far, there’s been no evidence of any God that has that sort of manifestation.

            Now there may be a God that does not influence or interact in the physical world, but if she doesn’t do that then we physical beings will have no way of detecting it. We will have no way to get any information whatsoever about the nature, desires, and abilities of such a thing.

            That is to say, that if you came to the conclusion that some sort of Deist God existed, then you would necessarily be deciding that by faith. It is just simply impossible for you to have gotten any evidence at all.

            The only way that a critical thinking person can be convinced that God exists is to find evidence of it. If you do PLEASE send it to me! I’d be awfully curious! I’m open to it… but I have very serious doubts that anyone will ever do it. No one has yet, and we’ve been trying for a long, long time. In fact, as we’ve gotten better at looking, she has become every more elusive. We’re running out of places to find her.

          • Anders says

            @Besomyka

            Exactly. And even if you go with a strictly deist god, one who just sets up things and gets them moving – the god of the Cosmological Argument – you still have the problem of an infinite regression. What created God?

      • says

        And the filling in the map before leaving home, making your thought fit the conclusion, is EXACTLY why faith is contradictory to thought and dangerous. I get the impression your emotional response to the post, Lorax, the sense that I’m dismissing you or challenging an opinion you hold very dear, is getting in the way of understanding my actual points.

    • Happiestsadist says

      How can you possibly start with the conclusion that if there’s a god, ze loves trans people? I mean, how can you start with a conclusion, period, but also which god? Gods? All trans people? That’s just incoherent non-reasoning based on the result you want to hear.

      • says

        No, it’s actually not “incoherent non-reasoning.” Just because I did not lay out all of the reasoning that goes along with this, does not mean that it does not exist. I would thank you to not jump to that conclusion.

        It’s pretty complex, but in a nutshell, in order for “God” to be a true god in the sense that I would personally believe in zir… in my mind, a “God” would necessarily be singular, as ze would encompass all things, have all powers and all knowledge, and being more than one would not include all things.

        Hate, being lack of love, being a hole where love should be, would not be an attribute belonging to “God,” then. If there is indeed a “God,” which I find fairly doubtful, any sort of evil, hateful, or vengeful “God” would not be a “God” to me, because they would be lacking compassion and love. And if I am capable of having love, I cannot be capable of having that which an all-powerful “God” does not.

        I do not want to argue theology. What I am arguing is that it is smug, condescending, and unfair to assume that thought has not been put into this. It is quite possible to come to the conclusion of a loving God after great and serious, and independent, thought.

        • Happiestsadist says

          It’s not that I doubt the thought you put into it, it’s just that you start with your ideal of a god, and then make shit up from there. That’s what theology and faith are. Making shit up. So a god you believed in would have to be a nicey-nice one because you’d feel bad believing in anything other. That’s nice, and is about as believable as a god that conveniently hates anything a bible-thumper hates.

          Perfect, Spock-like reason is a strawman, and an impossibility, but making up imaginary friends based on what you’d like as opposed to looking at the world and basing your conclusions on reality is not critical thinking.

        • says

          Why are you assuming love is the baseline condition? That hate is only the absence of love? How about love is the absence of hate? That simple reversal means that suddenly, by your own reasoning, God MUST hate everyone!

          • Anders says

            It’s a remnant of Plato. Christianity got a lot of its theology from Neoplatonism.

          • Caravelle says

            It is also simply experientially untrue. There are tons of people I don’t love and don’t hate either. Of course there’s the problem of love being ill-defined (Romantic love ? Friendly love ? Familial love ? Like ? Love one aspect of a person ? Think positive things about them ?), but if we avoid that and just go with a “common sense” idea of how we use the words in everyday life, then there are many states that are neither love or hate – the most obvious one being indifference.

            Given all those words are ill-defined I guess it is possible to define love and hate so that hate would be the absence of love – but unless one can show this definition has some larger applicability and purpose and wasn’t created just to make the argument work, it’s an argument with no substance.

        • Alexis says

          My early conception of god was of a cruel trickster, a practical joker. “Ooh look at these pretty clothes. Wouldn’t you like to be wearing such beautiful things? Hah, you can’t have them. They’re for girls! Ooh what fun activities. Wouldn’t you like to join in with the other girls in their fun? Hah, you aren’t allowed. You’re a boy! And just for good measure, here is a disfiguring injury so if you were a girl you could never be desirable.”

          Yes, I now understand that a woman can be desirable without being physically beautiful. But where is Lorax’s all loving god in all of this? And why only one? Perhaps there are a male and a female deity battling over us, and that’s why all the confusion. Or a larger pantheon?

          How I imagine it should be, and how it actually is don’t always correlate. Faith is nothing more than how imagine it should be, or what I’ve been taught based on what earlier people have imagined. And so skepticism and critical examination of religion, all religions is not only valid, but necessary.

        • Jeremy says

          Why does a god have to be the way you want it to be? Why couldn’t it be two deities with half of all things each, working harmoniously and lovingly? Or why not a thousand harmonious, loving deities each with many things that constitute existence? What reason do you have to believe that it is one, and only one? And why does it matter if this type of god is the way you believe it would work?

          Natalie gave excellent reasoning in support of skepticism, which is really about analysis. Making observations, analyzing them, and then refining those analyses. I think that’s what you’re implying you do on this “journey” of yours, but it doesn’t actually seem like that’s the case.

          Nevertheless, best of luck to you on such a journey. May the Force be with you.

          • Caravelle says

            I think a possible answer to that is that you wouldn’t call such non-unique, non-omni* deities “God”. Forget the fact that polytheists do exactly that.

            It seems to me many forms of reasoning on God really rely on defining what “God” is, and then deducing things from that. As Lorax seems to do, giving some criteria an entity would need to have before they called them “God” and deducing from them that such a God must love trans* people.

            The most straightforward problem with this is that everyone has a different God concept, so if one’s arguments on God depend on one’s definition of God, it makes it a non-argument for anybody who has a different definition.

            But really I want to take a step back here. To determine whether God exists or not, instead of defining God and then finding out whether God exists, why not find out what exists and then decide whether there is any existing entity we feel should be called “God” ?

            In the former case we’re having completely abstract discussions on a subject we don’t know even exists yet – those discussions could very well turn out to be completely irrelevant, or superseded by things we discover that we couldn’t have imagined in thought experiments. And once we’ve completed the second step, we’ll be left with a single bit of information : God exists, or God doesn’t. And, well, all the logical conclusions we drew on God’s nature, but once we find out God exists we can draw better conclusions from direct observation.

            In the latter case we’re dealing with reality. And at the end of the process we won’t have just found out whether God exists or not – we’ll have found out many things about reality itself. That approach just strikes me as more productive… Especially neither of them can actually ever be completed.

            (this of course is about determining whether God exists, not reasoning about the God concepts of people who already believe God exists)

        • Miri says

          It seems you are predicating what god must be (if such a thing exists) on what kind of god you would be willing to be believe in. You posit a set of criteria, based on what you personally would believe a being that could be called “god” would fulfill, and suggest that if such a thing exists, it would would fulfill those criteria, otherwise you wouldn’t accept it to be “god”. The thing is, all religions posit these criteria, overtly or tacitly, of what and use them reject the deities of other faiths.

          Let’s imagine god was found to exist, how many people would be disappointed by this discovery? In all likelihood it would be far more than the atheist minority. In all likelihood, it would be everyone. Why is it necessary that a fundamental, all-popwerful, all knowing creator being fit within one of the narrow conception of a group of believers, or even of a single person? The reality would be far more likely that god would be some sort of utterly alien and incomprehensible Lovecraftian horror, far beyond our ability to even perceive its existence. Consider what this thing is supposed have done, have made, have orchastrated over unimaginable time scales. Love doesn’t even compute when god is considered this way. And frankly, this conception of god is far more plausible than one who acts on the basis of so human an emotion as love.

          • Anders says

            Yeah, there’s something deeply suspicious about only believing in something if it’s nice. Hey, all trans people! Just stop believing in transphobes and they won’t bother you because they will just stop existing!

          • Salmo says

            “Let’s imagine god was found to exist, how many people would be disappointed by this discovery? In all likelihood it would be far more than the atheist minority. In all likelihood, it would be everyone.”

            I’ll go further. The atheists would be the only ones happy. After all, the god proven to exist would have satisfied evidence requirements, and we have no preconceived notions of what it would be like.

          • says

            I think if God was proven to exist, and proven to have a particular nature, we’d stop thinking of that entity as God, and formulate a NEW non-provable one.

            Or, to adapt Nietzsche:

            “If God actually existed, it would be necessary to invent him”

            :P

          • supernova says

            Miri:

            The reality would be far more likely that god would be some sort of utterly alien and incomprehensible Lovecraftian horror, far beyond our ability to even perceive its existence. Consider what this thing is supposed have done, have made, have orchastrated over unimaginable time scales. Love doesn’t even compute when god is considered this way. And frankly, this conception of god is far more plausible than one who acts on the basis of so human an emotion as love.

            Exactly! I’ve been reading about the human mind lately, and the fascinating thing you realise is that while we think of our emotions and desires as fundamental they are actually very specific to our evolutionary past. There is no reason why a supermind with dominion over the entire universe would think anything like us, or even think in a way comprehensible to us. In fact I’ll go futher, it would be really strange if that were the case – why would a supermind be encumbered with the emotions and desires of a specific species of upright ape existing on one little planet?

        • says

          Just because I did not lay out all of the reasoning that goes along with this, does not mean that it does not exist. I would thank you to not jump to that conclusion.

          Oh, the irony.

          If you want people to buy your “reasoning,” the burden rests on you to lay it out. You do NOT get to claim you’re being “rational,” then be offended when someone criticizes your claim. HappiestSadist was showing you respect by asking you hard questions and pushing back against your claims. They had enough confidence in your intellectual abilities to challenge you on your beliefs.

          And hate isn’t just “lack of love.” I don’t love Snooki, I don’t love shredded coconut, I don’t love Coldplay, but I can’t really get worked up enough to hate any of them.

        • kosk11348 says

          I concede that you can be intelligent and still believe in god. I concede that you can be thoughtful and introspective and still believe in god. I cannot concede that belief in god is rational, though, because it isn’t. For most people that isn’t a problem. I think it is.

    • Ryan Moran says

      Any statement about the nature of God is the equivalent of describing what size and color the Easter Bunny is. It doesn’t mater because the Easter Bunny doesn’t exist. Once you’ve established that god(s) exists (good luck with that), then you can start worrying about their nature.

      • Miri says

        The problem is that, if someone wanted to prove that god(s) exists, they would really need to know the nature (or at least have a theory of what that nature is) of what they’re looking for before they start. To test a hypotheses, you have to have a hypotheses, with certain parameters that allows a meaningful enquiry to be conducted. It is for this reason that discussing the existence of god(s) is beyond absurd: if there is not even a consensus on what the word means, how can we hold a discussion regarding the existence of the thing the word denotes.

  7. Heliomance says

    What would your response be, Natalie, to someone who examines the world through the principles of scepticism, and comes to the conclusion that random chance isn’t sufficient to explain the world? That, on balance, they decide there probably is a creator?

    I was raised Christian, in a loving household that pretty much exemplifies the good side of religion. When I got to University, I examined my beliefs, and I looked at the church, and I decided that I didn’t agree with everything that was taught. I no longer count myself as Christian. But I’m not an atheist, either. I think there probably is a God, I just haven’t made up my mind as to whether He’s worthy of worship.

    But if and when I do decide that, it’ll be me that’s made the decision. And it’ll be a considered opinion. It won’t be blind, it’ll be as rational as I’m capable of being. Religious faith and an enquiring, independent mind are not mutually exclusive. I agree with you that religion has more often been a force for evil than good – but I don’t think that’s due to religion. I think that’s due to the fact that people, in general, are bastards. Religion gets used as an excuse. I dispute that it’s the root cause of the atrocities committed in its name. I dispute that religion is inherently dangerous.

    People are inherently dangerous. Religion is no more or less dangerous than the people practising it.

    • eric says

      What would your response be, Natalie, to someone who examines the world through the principles of scepticism, and comes to the conclusion that random chance isn’t sufficient to explain the world? That, on balance, they decide there probably is a creator?

      A pithy answer would be: take more science.

      A more involved answer might be: since you say you concluded ‘creator’ based on your examination of the world, you should be able to parse your creator-conception as an empirical (i.e. testable) hypothesis. Do that, go out and test it, then come back and tell us the results. If you can’t parse your creator-idea as a testable hypothesis, you probably did not derive that idea from examination of the world.

      • Heliomance says

        Gladly. Unfortunately, I’m having a little trouble sourcing the things I’ll need for a rigorous experiment. Would you know where I could find enough universes to form a valid sample group, preferably created using some sort of repeatable pseudo-random seed?

        • Forbidden Snowflake says

          Would you know where I could find enough universes to form a valid sample group, preferably created using some sort of repeatable pseudo-random seed?

          So you concluded that the universe probably had a creator without a valid sample group? Tsk-tsk.

          You start by introducing your conclusion as one validated by the facts, but when asked to justify that, evaded by suggesting that the question is outside the reach (though not the scope) of science. No. The facts that validate your position either exist or don’t.

          • Heliomance says

            I give no definite answer either way. My conclusion is that, on balance of probability, it seems to me that the likelihood is that there was a creator of some sort. The weak anthropic principle renders that conclusion untestable either way, unless we find more universes to use as a sample group. But absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, and so while I concur that it would be foolish to conclude that there definitely is a God, it seems equally foolish to conclude that there definitely is not.

          • Dalillama says

            The weak anthropic principle renders that conclusion untestable either way, unless we find more universes to use as a sample group.

            The weak anthropic principle, like all the other variants of the fine tuned universe put the cart before the horse. The universe is not fine tuned for us, we are fine tuned for the universe. This is entirely probable, as if we weren’t fine tuned to the part of the universe in which we reside we wouldn’t be here. In a hypothetical universe with different physical constants, life would be different, fine tuned for those physical constants if it occurred at all. There is also a very large assumption in fine tuning arguments, which is the assumption that the universe could have had physical laws other than those it does, which is an entirely unsupported assertion.

          • Forbidden Snowflake says

            But absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, and so while I concur that it would be foolish to conclude that there definitely is a God, it seems equally foolish to conclude that there definitely is not.

            But we are not dealing with ‘definitely’, we’re dealing with ‘reasonably’, otherwise we couldn’t get past disproving the Matrix scenario. Are the probabilities you use to conclude that “on balance of probability, it seems to me that the likelihood is that there was a creator of some sort” reasonable? Are they even based on anything but vague intuitions?
            Is it reasonable to think a mind could exist that has nothing of what we know to be required for the existence of a mind? What is the probability of that? It it ever reasonable to try and explain away a scientific mystery with miracles?

          • says

            Heliomance, your use of the so-called “balance of probabilities” and the word “equally” to square each side of the ledger is actually pretty dishonest. Twentieth century physics has had a lot to say about naturalistic explanations for the universe as we see it, without the need for inventing supernatural entities as creators; so Occam’s razor cuts away sharply at your supposed balance. If you have insights about the nature of the natural universe as we perceive that in fact requires a creator, then you should give reasons for such an uneconomical explanation.

            Even if one was to hypothesise that there were a supernatural creator, it has left behind absolutely no tangible evidence for its existence, so that we are left with considering possibilities such as a creator that has had no further interest in interacting with its creation, in which case it doesn’t love trans people and it makes no sense to worship it; or, the creator is a trickster that revels in hiding the evidence of its handiwork and bewildering humanity, so by allowing the lives of trans people to be affected by bigotry, again such a malevolent creator doesn’t seem to love trans people and is moreover unworthy of either respect or being worshipped.

            In fact, the “omni” Gods of most human religions (those that are presumed to be omniscient, omnibenevolent, and omnipotent) are not favoured by even a charitably equal weighing of likelihoods.

          • Caravelle says

            Dalillama :

            There is also a very large assumption in fine tuning arguments, which is the assumption that the universe could have had physical laws other than those it does, which is an entirely unsupported assertion.

            I want to stress this part. We haven’t solved physics yet. While I think it’s perfectly reasonable to think we might still have unanswered questions about the deep nature of the Universe once we’ve found its fundamental laws, we can’t know what those questions will be. We don’t know which parameters we think are contingent today will actually turn out to be necessary. We don’t know to what extent our future discoveries might completely change the very questions we’re asking. It isn’t just a question of finding other Universes; to even begin to answer the question of the probability of our Universe being how it is, we need to know how our Universe is in the first place.

            Besides it’s just occurred to me that introducing God just makes the problem worse – is God a completely undefined entity ? The why would it create our Universe as it is ? Why not create any other Universe, or nothing at all ? What are the probabilities on that ? Or is God an entity with personality and desires that explains why it would create our Universe ? Well… why did God have that personality and desires, where did those come from ? It’s a real question; things like “personality” or “desires” aren’t exactly fundamental.

        • Besomyka says

          Wait, you came to a conclusion without any testing or evidence? Isn’t that what faith is? What evidence has convinced you that a god exists, and how can people like me also find that same evidence?

          I suspect (though you may be an exception) that much of the ‘god exists’ statements are just made due to the awe inspiring nature of the world we find ourselves in. But that desire to believe in things greater than ourselves doesn’t mean it’s real. Just because you or I or anyone doesn’t understand something, doesn’t mean that some supernatural entity did it, much less that that entity did it for us, or cares about us.

          All it means is we don’t know. And I like to know things, so lets not just say ‘god did it’ and stop thinking. Every time we stepped away from God as an explanation, we’d gained knowledge and figured out the natural, reliable, repeatable processes (other than on the small quantum scale, but even then there are rules). No hand of god had ever been found: only answers and more questions.

      • Decnavda says

        If you look at the facts and come to a conclusion that you believe to be likely true but there is no way to test it, you have a conclusion that is unscientific but could still count as rational speculation. Many atheists respond to the srgument that the universe is designed for life by postulating an infinite number of non-interacting universes and then applying the weak anthropic principle to suggest that we just happen to live in one of universes capable of life. There is, in theory, no way to verify or test for the existence of these other universes, so the theory is unscientific, and violates Occam’s Razor as well. (Assuming the existence of an infinite number of infinitely large universes?) But many prominent theoretical physicists believe the theory fits known facts well, so I am inclined to call it rational speculation. It seems to me that a deist could be rationally speculating about a vauge “creator entity” even though the concept is unscientific.

        Admittly, how someone could rationally get from, “There is probably an undetectable vauge creator entity,” to, “The undetectable vauge creator entity loves me,” is not something I can conceive.

        • Besomyka says

          In response to the last bit about it being possible that there is a vague creator entity, the problem is that even that conclusion fails to satisfy. All it does is extend the set of things that exist to include a creator of the universe. It doesn’t acutally answer the question that it was trying to, namely: why is there something rather than nothing?

          Yeah, okay lets accept that there’s a deist creator. Why does that creator exist? Why should that creator exist rather than nothing?

          The set of real things may get larger, but the question remains.

          Even more problematic is that any answer people come up with to explain the creator (Prime Cause, and whatnot) are equally applied to the universe itself. If the creator could have just been the first uncaused-cause, then surely all of reality itself could also be. There’s no reason to apply the prime cause sorts of things to an idea we can’t even really know does exist, rather than applying it to something that we are confronted with as real every day.

          • Decnavda says

            Rather than respond to your point directly, which I really can’t since I am an agnostic, not a diest, and am not convinced by either side, I will just say that it does not respond to the “meta” point I was making: just because deism is unscientific does not make it irrational. It might be *wrong*, and you have good points as to a problem with the idea, but so might the multiple universe theory be wrong and there are smart people who poke holes in that theory. So you might have a good point, and I think you do, but I do not think it is good enough to put deism in the “like believing in Thor or Johova” column rather than the “like believing in multiple universes” column.

        • Forbidden Snowflake says

          Admittly, how someone could rationally get from, “There is probably an undetectable vauge creator entity,” to, “The undetectable vauge creator entity loves me,” is not something I can conceive.

          Strangely, I can.
          The whole argument from fine-tuning appears to rest on the assumption that a life-supporting universe is somehow a favoured outcome, not of equal value to the “lifeless universe” or “universe collapsing in itself” outcomes, but achieving some goal that they don’t, and therefore requiring an explanation. Any creator entity conjured up to explain this would have to be one with a particular interest in life – so, it’s a personal deity from the start. And since it is interested in us, well then fuck it, it might as well love me.

          Obviously, I think the “favoured outcome” thing is where it starts being wrong.

        • Caravelle says

          Infinite non-interacting universes don’t necessarily violate Occam’s razor; that razor isn’t about the number of entities strictly speaking, but about the number of assumptions you make in your theory of the world. A good example I saw in an essay by Eliezer Yudkowsky at lesswrong.com is that of a photon leaving Earth. At some point it will be so far that any interaction with it and anything we can observe will be impossible. Does Occam’s razor say we should think the photon disappeared ? No: we have theories of how photons work that say the photon should still be there, and thinking it disappeared means introducing an additional rule, and an unnecessary one.

          Similarly, many-worlds hypotheses (there are actually many different ones that answer different questions, I’m not sure which one you were thinking of) don’t necessarily violate Occam’s razor by the same principle; if they’re implicit in the general theory, and you need to tweak the theory to make them not exist, Occam’s razor would say those worlds do exist, even if we can never interact with them.

    • michaeld says

      I don’t know what Natalie’s response would be but I’d be interested in having a dialogue with them about this belief and what they mean by random chance.

      If they are referring to random chance about say life on earth, planet formation etc I’d bring up the natural laws (gravity natural selection etc) to show that the universe is not ruled by random chance.

      If they are referring to fine tuning of the universe for life and the state of the universe I’d bring up a dice analogy (cause I love dice). Lets say I have a 6 sided die and it is either well balanced (representing a natural universe) where 6 occurs 1/6 rolls or loaded so that 6 occurs 19/20 rolls ( a supernaturally fine tuned universe). I roll the die and it comes up 6. What can I say about the die being loaded or not? Nothing. The sample size is so small that its a meaningless answer.

      This is the same with our universe in my mind. We have 1 universe that we can test and we can’t re-roll the results of its creation. We really know so little about its creation we can’t even tell how many possible outcomes or sides their are. Think about if I roll a different die and it comes up 1 and I ask what are the odds of that? The problem becomes you don’t know if that die was loaded or not and even if you don’t know that you wouldn’t know whether I rolled a D4/6/10/12/20 .

      I guess to sum up it sounds like an argument from ignorance or personal incredulity. Not terribly different from how can all these bigfoot sightings be wrong. I don’t mean to attack you but it just doesn’t sound very skeptical and seems to me to have more in common with faith.

    • Jeremy says

      Eric’s response is spot-on. It seems like you’re basing your analysis on previous convictions and a worldview that was impressed upon you growing up, rather than on actual observation.

      And saying “random chance isn’t sufficient to explain the world” does imply a lack of understanding of the scientific worldview. It’s a weak deflection away from evaluating the observable world and refining your analysis of those observations.

      I think there probably is a God, I just haven’t made up my mind as to whether He’s worthy of worship

      And if you’re honestly observing the world around you, concluding that there is a deity out there, and still wondering if he’s worthy of worship, then you’re really not being rational. In the amount of time it took me to write this response, 35 people died of hunger, 15 died for lack of clean water, and 10 died as a result of malaria infection. Dozens more died of violence, disease, and accidents. Such is the power of statistical observation. If that doesn’t absolutely turn you against the WORSHIP of a god you believe “probably exists”, then you’re not being moral either.

  8. says

    I take a slightly different tack, which is, I don’t know that all religions are bad. Sheer assertionism is bad, and appears to be present in most religions (it’s certainly present in the statement “God loves trans people”), but I couldn’t know for sure if it is universal. Demanding religious privilege and thinking of atheists as lesser beings is bad, and appears to be present in most religions (it’s certainly present in the essay “Queerly Religious”), but I couldn’t know for sure if it is universal.

    But I think it is completely legitimate to criticize one specific form of religion, or one specific aspect even if it is not universal. I don’t see why it wouldn’t be. Is it okay to talk about racism, but not okay to talk about racism towards Asians as it is specifically manifested in my local context?

    • bspiken says

      But that was indeed the argument here. All religions are bad to the extent that all religions are based on faith, on asserting conclusions first and reasoning them second.

      • says

        I don’t agree that I am making the same point as Natalie. I would say that some religions are bad for reasons that go beyond faith. For example, I could snark: “God loves trans people. That’s why he treats them so well.” This would be a way of pointing out how callous the statement is, diminishing the many problems that trans people face, and acting as if the “complex aspects” of theodicy will fix it.

        But of course, my snark would be inapplicable to lots of religions. It doesn’t apply to atheistic religions. It doesn’t apply to religions that believe gods are inactive. For all I know, it doesn’t apply to neo-Pagans; I’m not familiar enough with them to say.

        But so what? Maybe I am being “ethnocentric” by talking about things that only apply to my own local context, but so what? Is it illegitimate to talk about my local context? Is it somehow more legitimate to talk about faith, because it is (supposedly) universal among religions, than to talk about callous theodicy, which is not so universal?

    • says

      Of course it’s okay to discuss, or critique, specifics. It’s also okay to discuss or critique on a universal basis if you genuinely mean and can support your argument. If my argument is genuinely “faith is dangerous”, and the definition of “religion” is “metaphysical beliefs based on faith”, then yeah, I can perfectly well say “all religion is dangerous”. On a different occasion, however, I might talk about the particularly fucked up way fundamentalist Christianity targets LGBTQ people. Fine. Both approaches are okay.

  9. Emily says

    Well, you failed to scare me away. I’ve been a regular reader of PZ’s before I knew what trans was. This trans girl is sticking around ;)

  10. Sebastian says

    Thank you so much for this post.

    I don’t even know what purpose telling someone that god loves them is supposed to fulfil. Is it supposed to make me feel nice? I’d take it as an insult! How dare you assume that I need the love of an otherworldly being in order to be able to accept myself. Even worse, how dare you try to force me under the protection of something that has caused myself and those who I care about so much grief!

    So, to the frequent users of this phrase, if you’re trying to make me feel good about myself by saying that, it’s not working. It just makes me moderately annoyed >:[

  11. Happiestsadist says

    This is, beyond a doubt, one of the best posts I’ve seen on FTB, and the best I’ve seen on the subject. Bravo.

    • otrame says

      I agree. A simply brilliant post.

      BTW, I assume that if we are to blame Crommunist for anything we don’t like, we can also credit you with the things we do like.

      In which case, poor Crommunist.

  12. Rasmus says

    I’ve been thinking a lot about how to communicate with religious people who want to combine being good with believing in the Abrahamitic god (I honestly can’t say that I have spoken with someone who believes in another god).

    I think the best way to think about this is to argue for atheism, but to not let the perfect be the enemy of the good. You obviously can’t deconvert people on the spot. Many adults can’t be converted at all. I think society needs good, workable belief systems for people who are on their way towards Atheism/Agnosticism and for people who are going to stay Theist.

    When people tell me intellectually absurd things like “Allah respects gay people too” or “The New Testament is a beautiful message about love” I don’t only say that I think that’s bullshit.

    I say “I think that’s bullshit, based on my readings of the Koran and The Bible and my understanding of Islamic and Christian tradition, however I’m really glad to heard that you have good and healthy attitudes towards other people. I think your version of your religion is an improvement over the traditional versions. Have you told your fellow believers about this? You should!”

    (BTW, I think it’s less patronizing to say to a person that I think their religion is bullshit than it is to avoid saying that I think it’s bullshit.)

  13. says

    I think when people feel the need to say god or goddess or whatthefuckever loves you no matter who you are, to try and somehow alleviate the suffering of a marganilized group of people, they are missing the point.

    I think you found the point perfectly in your summation. External deity’s opinions of you don’t matter. If a god exists and doesn’t appreciate me for the way it made me then the problem lies with that god. What matters most is that I love myself first.

    • says

      Right. If I find myself still around after death, being punished by God for building the life I did out of the circumstances He gave me, then He is no more deserving of my worship than any other tyrant, nor would I care to accept his “love”.

      • Megan says

        That’s been my experience as well. It’s either some vague mother goddess thing, or some syncretic appropriation of at least two religious traditions from cultures that said left-wing theist isn’t a member of of.

    • yiab says

      My guess is they want generic, vague, noncommittal, all-religion-is-about-love, all-beliefs-are-true, newage spiritualism.

      Or maybe just silence.

  14. Dalillama says

    The degree to which we position atheism as somehow a “white, privileged” thing, and imagine that the religious of people of colour are somehow different, and need to left alone, is to buy into some seriously messed up racial narratives.

    I’ve encountered this only a few times before, but every time I do, I’m stunned by the level of racism it implies. This is particularly true because it’s couched in very progressive language and is coming from people who presumably consider themselves advocates for racial equality.
    On another note, I would argue that most forms of Buddhism are less harmful than Christianity. It makes fewer fact claims, and its adherents are much less likely to try to make its precepts public policy. Not to say they never do, pre Chinese invasion Tibet was a rather nasty Buddhist theocracy, but it’s much less common than most of the major religions.

    • Anders says

      I wonder if the Abrahamitic religions really are uniquely nasty or if that’s just because we don’t see as much of e.g. Hinduism in the West.

      • Miri says

        I think they are all much the same (well, organized religions at least. I’d say that some less organized are less harmful, on the whole, but still maintain a lot of the harmful aspects (like say Wicca, which is nice and fuzzy with it’s “do what you like as long as it doesn’t harm others”, but it is still founded on faith (unless it’s a (extremely) rare aetheistic, non-magical, skeptical form), what with it’s focus on “magic”)), but yeah, from a western point of view things are distinctly whitewashed. Some truly horrible things are done in the name of religion, in all cultures. As regards non normative expressions of gender and sexuality, just because another culture doesn’t exhort it’s members to regard the same expressions as norms as ours does, it does not follow that they do not contain different, yet equally harmful, ideas of what is normal. Normative ideas in general are harmful, as they are faith based (regardless of whether they flow from a religion or just “common sense”), and are based on unexamined assumptions. Religions, in almost all cases, promote a set of normative behavior they deem righteous, and hence, promote ideas that are harmful.

        • Sas says

          And just to expand on what you said, even religions that directly try to make themselves less harmful, like Wicca, end up being used as justification for harm.

          Check out this post about transphobia at a neo-pagan convention. In the comments, Z. Budapest, the founder of one of the more influential strains of Wicca, uses nasty transphobic garbage and slurs to justify excluding trans women from woman-based Wicca. It’s remarkably similar to what you hear from the hateful sort of radfems that want a trans-woman-free MichFest.

          Also, a personal anecdote is that I once dabbled in the New Age spirituality movement that directly positions itself as the ‘harmless’ enlightenment opposing organized religion, and was told by a “medium” that her spirit guides said I was just hung up on one of my female past lives and that I should just learn to accept myself as male. You really can’t trust anyone that claims supernatural revelation, it WILL be used to justify prejudice.

          • Miri says

            People like Z. Budapest and the Mitchfest organisers can go fuck off… “male energy” FFS, and yet somehow trans men aren’t possessed of this “energy”… (got to stop, not relevant to discussion…)

            I have always found Wicca and other neo-pagan religions interesting, and despite being a hardline aestheist and skeptical to an almost soul-crushing degree, I see value in the way they view the natural world, at least in a metaphorical sense. There is value in respecting nature, in ritual as a calming, centering, or mediatative practice (although, when purposes beyond this are ascribed, like magic, well… not so valuable), in the poetry of personifying natural phenomena, and so on. It’s when these things stop being metaphor and begin to be taken as objective truths that there are problems.

            I think that is the issue with all religions, no matter how benign they may seem: they take ideas backed by no evidence at all as objective facts, and extrapolate from these ideas certain imperatives, that cannot be questioned, because they are not founded on a basis of critical enquiry, but uncritical faith.

          • says

            It’s remarkably similar to what you hear from the hateful sort of radfems that want a trans-woman-free MichFest.

            It’s likely the same people. Non-skeptical feminism and goddess-woo are like peanut butter and bananas.

          • Caravelle says

            This is probably criminally off-topic, but one of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman comics involves a transwoman… And it’s quite strange because she is portrayed sympathetically throughout, and the people who reject her identification as female are portrayed as insensitive bigots… But when she gets involved with an actual witch casting a spell that involves women she’s told “yeah, it’s all about genitals sorry”. i.e. it’s like the very laws of magic are validating transphobia.

            But given everything else, to me at least it came across as if the laws of magic themselves were wrong.

            I wonder what actual trans* people thought of that story ?

          • says

            I haven’t read it… but yeah, if Gaiman is playing the fucked-up “magic says trans women don’t have ‘female energy'” thing, FUCK HIM. That tactic has a very real presence in cultural feminism, wicca and transphobic radical feminism, as a justification for excluding and punishing and invalidating and mocking trans women. Not cool to play into it.

            I also understand his trans character ends up dying. Surprise surprise.

          • says

            Replying to Caravelle; this probably wasn’t the best place for you to pose that question given your sub-comment is already indented by the maximum amount and people can’t directly reply to your comment.

            If Neil Gaiman did basically say that “it’s all about the genitals”, then my response would be, fuck you Neil Gaiman, and the horse you rode in on. But I’d want to check this out myself first; I’m not a Sandman fangrrl and haven’t read them; I like his other work.

          • Caravelle says

            @Xanthe: sorry about the placement of my question, I’ll try and think about those things more in the future, but I think we can have a conversation even without using direct replies… The narrowness of the column is a bigger problem for me actually ^^

            Anyway I would encourage you to read the story in question, I looked it up it’s in A Game of You :
            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Sandman:_A_Game_of_You

            I wasn’t saying that Neil Gaiman said it was all about the genitals; indeed I don’t think he says that. But I am not completely clear on how he comes across to others in that story, which is why I’m asking.

          • says

            I understand that he’s putting that view into the mouth of one of his characters, rather than it being the authorial voice. It’s still Gaiman’s universe though, so he could have written it so there wasn’t anything magical about the state of people’s genitals (the trans woman is pre-op)… but instead, it appears he didn’t. In other words, he’s still paying lip service to the idea that trans women aren’t really women, and that this is a magical-objective fact in his fictional universe.
            Also, SPOILER.

          • says

            Spoil the fuck out of it. It’s 20 year old cisnormative transphobia-justifying idiocy.

            P.S. FUCK WordPress for repeatedly telling me “cisnormative”, “transphobia”, and “transgender” are misspellings / not real words.

          • says

            Hey Natalie, how did you manage to put your comment there?

            And yes, the “trans women have ‘male’ energy” is pure BS. A great way for Neil Gaiman to find himself in agreement with newage-touting transphobes like Janice Raymond.

          • Caravelle says

            @Xanthe and Natalie : Thank you for your replies. I was hoping from the impressions of people who had read the story, but both of your points are well-taken.

          • Alex says

            I felt that Neil Gaiman’s portrayal was more about the characters transphobia than him being transphobic. my reading was that the woman leading the rite was the one excluding the trans woman, rather than the laws of magic excluding her. IMO, much of the rest of the series seems to revolve around non-physical aspects, and it seems strange to me that a physical aspect of the character would matter here.
            So it is more using the trans woman as an example to show that even these seemingly progressive, feminist people can still be bigoted towards people they see as others.

      • nattaruk says

        Hinduism can be nasty; the practice of sati involved burning the widow with the husband’s corpse. The cult of Kali involved human sacrifice by thuggees, from which the word ‘thug’ is derived. The caste system condemns people to misery (eg untouchables) purely based on who their parents are. etc. etc.

      • says

        Right. The fact that not ALL buddhists are harmful or ALL iterations commit atrocities doesn’t matter. Provided some significant set of people are using faith in Buddhism as justification for unquestioned oppression of others, my thesis is supported: faith is dangerous because it convinces us not to question certain beliefs, or the actions that extend from those beliefs.

        • Dalillama says

          Oh, right. I’d forgotten that the violence there had a religious as well as an ethnic nature. Point taken, and I withdraw my halfhearted defence of Buddhism. :)

    • says

      I’ve encountered this only a few times before, but every time I do, I’m stunned by the level of racism it implies. This is particularly true because it’s couched in very progressive language and is coming from people who presumably consider themselves advocates for racial equality.

      And then couple that with the “other ways of knowing” horseshit that disdains science because it’s been wielded as a tool of oppression (uhhhhhh, and religion and other forms of woo haven’t?), and how the hell will oppressed people ever get access to the levers of power? Sorry, but at this point in history they can’t just fuck off into the woods/rainforest/desert to play shaman or wisewoman and be left alone by greater society.

  15. darrenmaczka says

    Great post, thanks. This really sums up well the frustrations I have had as a gay atheist advocating for social justice. It pains me to see people spending so much time and energy in an attempt to reconcile the same faith that made them feel so much shame, self-hatred and pain.
    And I’d like to think that this post won’t alienate any of your readers, and in the off chance that it does, can rest assured that it has secured at least one additional subscriber ;-)

    • otrame says

      Crommunist, thanks for helping Natalie out. She has written a brilliant post and your support is appreciated not only by her, but by her readers as well.

      • says

        Most of the time me “helping Natalie out” involves “sitting and letting her vent”. Then throwing a couple of witty puns and calling it a day. Natalie’s got a crew, and we roll deep. She’s definitely the captain of her own ship though – the rest of us are just helping her row…

        …like it OAR not!

        BOOM!

        • Anders says

          You continue making puns like that and she may have to come over to spank you!

          That may not be the deterrent I meant it to be.

  16. Anders says

    That dissonance is a gift.

    Is it wrong of me to want to follow that statement with “A gift to the foes of Mordor!”?

    • Jeremy says

      Nope. My first auto response to people saying “Well…My belief in god isn’t like X. It’s reasonable, and loving, and thoughtful.” is always “Well…My belief in Elu is better because of the Ainulindale”, which is a damn sight cooler than 6 days, a flood, and a pillar of salt.

      Thus, LotR geekishness is totally acceptable

      • Christopher Petroni says

        Thus, LotR geekishness is totally acceptable

        Was this ever in controversy?

        Let the grey rain-curtain turn all to silver glass and roll back, and reveal a far green country under a swift sunrise. To hell with clouds and harps.

  17. 'Tis Himself, OM says

    From the OP:

    A very key concept here is the accusations against atheism that it is colonial or imperial in nature seeking to convert people to a particular cultural view.

    Everyone, except the most introverted sociophobics, tries to convert people to a specific cultural view. I enjoy sailing. I invite people to go sailing with me in hopes they’ll also find it enjoyable. I’m an post-Keynesian economist, I try to teach people about economics in general and post-Keynesian economics in particular. When religion or atheism come up in conversation (I do not initiate these topics) then I’ll talk about atheism and why I am not a goddist.

    For anyone to claim “atheism…is colonial or imperial” and other beliefs aren’t is sheer anti-atheist bigotry.

    Atheism does not seek to “convert” in any meaningful sense. Religion creates converts through emotional manipulation and other more overt forms of coercion. Atheism simply discusses, educates and asks you to think things through for yourself.

    Being atheistic is not the same as being anti-religion. Unfortunately too many people, theists and atheists alike, conflate the two. My Catholic father was strongly anti-Mormon. I know a Mormon who is very anti-Catholic. I personally am anti-Mormon and anti-Catholic, but not as vehement as either my father or my friend.

    Most atheists I know talk to goddists about evidence for their gods. Many of us will also talk about how particular religions are poisonous but, as I said, this is a different topic than atheism.

    • Besomyka says

      I think the viral part of most religions (and certainly Christianity and Islam) are the concepts of hell and redemption. That idea turns otherwise well meaning people into activists.

      To take the idea of sailing, telling people about sailing and asking on occasion if they’d like to go is fine. If you start being emotionally manipulative, isolate people you know by getting them into situations in which they are surrounded by sailing enthusiastic, and you tell them that they are bad people for not enjoying sailing, THEN you’re getting to how most religions operate.

  18. Maldy says

    There are, of course, some religions where it was accepted or even embraced… the trans priestesses of Cybele in ancient Greece, India’s Hjira, the eunuchs in certain contexts of Christianity and Islam, the Two-Spirit identities in various First Nations spiritual systems, similar beliefs in early Norse paganism wherein those who could transcend the boundaries between genders were supposed to be better able to transcend the boundaries between the material and immaterial worlds

    I want to mention that the romanticism of these religions’ or cultures’ conditional acceptance of trans people or queer people is absolutely part of the problem. It’s not all puppies and rainbows and there are a lot of abuses, isolation, and large problems that have dated back historically, most specifically to trans people.

    That’s not to say some cultures/religions cant look better from the outside looking in, but I think we’d all do ourselves and those who are subject to those other cultures a favor if we stopped Romanticizing it as if they’re embraced and loved.

    The true story of Hijras or Two-Spirt individuals (something that now largely is used by all Queer Pan-Native peoples) is much more complex and their placement is not always welcomed and embraced, in fact isolation from family, friends, and religion are likely.

    The ONLY way that I honestly accept Buddhism as being a bit less harmful than Christianity is on the basis that it encourages actual thought and meditation rather than just accepting scripture.

    Let’s not forget the strong backlash against queer people and especially trans people there is in South East Asian Buddhist culture especially. A trans or queer person brings “bad karma” onto their family and others they interact with. Especially in certain contexts.

    On the outside places like thailand seem remarkably accepting of trans people and the experience, but often times, much like any cissexist/transphobic society, it’s only those who can manage to be the most beautiful by cis standards, and even then things are so so complex. But Thailand isn’t all rainbows and puppies either, and neither is Buddhism. People act out shame and rage on queer people of all times, and they believe they are supported by their religion. They are helping their karma. And the other person? They deserved it! They deserve everything they get, including being trans/queer, because of bad karma from another life.

    Anyway, that’s all I had to say. Just that the rest of the world isn’t peachy keen either, and it IS ethnocentric when we, as left leaning social justice types, think it is and romanticize it.

    • says

      Thank you, yes, I absolutely agree with this. My point wasn’t “look at how lovely things are everywhere else!”, but more just acknowledging that yes, not all spiritual traditions treat queerness the same way. However, this is a very very valid point, and I think strengthens my case, as well as helps provide additional arguments against those who call atheism ethnocentric for calling religion dangerous and forgetting about the “good” religions.

      I’ll throw in a quick edit there to help make what I meant a bit more clear.

      • says

        Ew. :(

        I’ve heard such weird contradictory things, though. Apparently it can vary a whole lot from region to region, with trans women / kathoey being considered horrible and abominable in some areas (but also desirable… kind of like the attitude towards trans women in very down-and-out North American places, like the downtown eastside. You’re gross, and ridiculed, but also hit on and sexually harassed and solicited a whole bunch.) But in other areas apparently kathoey are considered “lucky” (in the same sense that lots of things strange and unusual and rare are considered as such) and a little bit of a status symbol, with some poorer Thai families actually encouraging their sons to become kathoey so they can achieve a bit of status and bring in some extra $ through the sex trade.

        And then as a whole, Thailand also generally has some slightly different attitudes: the airline whose flight attendants are all kathoey, the all kathoey pop supergroup, etc. This is NOT to say that in Thailand it’s all tits and rainbows, happy happy good-times for all trans women, just that it’s different.

  19. Sri says

    I know this is entirely tangential and probably inconsequential but I must say that Liar, Lunatic, or Lorax is now my favorite blog title of all time.

  20. Delictuscoeli says

    Surely not ALL religions. The Invisible Pink Unicorn, blessings be upon her holy hooves, is known to love all queer folk. She is, after all, a pink unicorn.

    That aside, I totally agree. I understand the motivation for trying to claim a queer-positive god, but it just props up a horrible cultural mess. It’s my main beef with Andrew Sullivan (though there are others), since he is so adamant about clinging to his Catholicism despite being in profound disagreement with the Church on just about everything.

  21. says

    I suspect the difficulty for trans people in religion may be a part of the problem that all religions are sexist. I have not ever encountered any religion that does not have a serious problem with women heavily embedded in its traditions, even if there are occasional egalitarian splinter sects.

    Buddhism is often cited, but jeez, look a millimetre deep and find that Buddhist monks are deeply religious and important and Buddhist nuns are the domestic servants of the monks, and that the Buddha was magically born without contact with an icky vagina, and that touching women is icky, and more. Paganism? Hefty gender segregation – and separate is so not equal. It’s not like the ancient Greeks were paragons of equality! Many animist traditions have utterly segregated men’s and women’s ceremonies, and it’s not just those darned western imperialist perspectives that make the men’s somehow more socially important.

    So yeah, if you challenge the gender binary, you’re confusing! Impure! Eek! Feminists and non-heteros and transpeople alike, we’re all the unclean mixtures; the “them” to religion’s “us”. If you want to have a genuinely inclusive religion, then you pretty much have to go make up a new one. And then it becomes rather more obvious that it’s made up.

  22. says

    never having thought about the race or class implications of atheism and religion…

    Fuck’s sake, am I tired of that canard, which is widespread across the social-justice blogosphere. And it reminds me a lot of how fundies think atheists have never “considered Jesus” before.

    I honestly have no idea why contemporary Abrahamic religion has tended towards such hatred of queer people.

    The ancient peoples of the Levantine lived in a harsh environment with a great deal of competition from neighbors. A high birth rate with discouragement of non-procreative sexual satisfaction helped them survive. Combine that with the anti-sexual, anti-sensual attitudes of Greek Stoicism, and you get the specifically Christian hatred of GLBT folks and women (which has influenced Orthodox Judaism and, probably, Islam too).

    But I don’t for a second believe that Buddhism doesn’t carry the same dangers.

    Aside from what was said upthread about Buddhist violence in Asia, some of the smuggest assholes I’ve ever encountered are economically privileged Western Buddhists, almost all of them white.

  23. ladydreamgirl says

    Thank you for this. I wish I had had it to read a while back when the GLBTQ organization at my old university spent some of a meeting with discussion of religion. When my turn came, very near the end as we were going around a circle, I did my best to say that atheism was ok, that not believing in God was a perfectly acceptable position and it didn’t come with the baggage of most organized religions. I guess every body else took this as an attack on themselves or their faith or something, and I don’t remember what happened perfectly, but I was basically the only person who’s point was deemed to be deserving of offering an opportunity of rebuttal rather than just moving on to someone else to share more personal experiences/opinions. I ended up running out of the room crying, I literally climbed over my chair and jumped over the back of it because I couldn’t stand to stay there while my perfectly reasonable position of “well a lot of religion isn’t really ok with queer people so going without it is a perfectly viable option” was being bashed while everyone else’s position was given respectful treatment. I guess what I’m trying to say is, I have some small idea of the amount of flack you’re probably dealing with for writing this and I’m extremely grateful that you wrote it anyway.

  24. Anders says

    I’ve posted this elsewhere, but to my mind one of the most offensive views on LGBTQ is that of Michael Vorris, the Catholic nutbag who has his own YouTube channel. According to him, homosexuals (I don’t think he knows that bi and trans people even exist) are extra loved by God because they are created to suffer and be an example to others. The thought that someone created a person to suffer and that this somehow is good is so vile it defies description.

  25. T B Stevens says

    One of the major arguments I hear about religion is what a comfort it is to people, how much hope it gives, etc..

    I kind of have found the opposite. My girl is Jewish and when she came out as trans, she was shunned by the orthodox community, and was literally told that her soul had been burned and she was destroyed in this life and the next. This was complete opposite of comfort, and actually caused quite a bit of harm. I still at times deal with some of her self esteem issues related to this.

    So yeah, if there is a God? And he *allowed* this? I want to have some words with this entity.

    I can only assume that if God exists, he is a giant passive aggressive dick. So send me to hell jerkhole. I’m not going to be sucking up to you anytime soon. If he is all powerful, why the heck is he so completely insecure?

    • Rasmus says

      I think you’re understating things a bit by calling him a passive aggressive dick. I mean, we talking about the god that drowned everyone on Earth to cover up his own fuckup (the humans that he had created had become evil and corrupt).

      It’s interesting that there’s no devil in the Hebrew bible/Old Testament and it’s kind of logical when you think about it. With a god like the one in the Old Testament there’s really no need for a separate source of evil.

  26. knownothingable says

    This is excellent. I cringe every time I hear “the Westboro Baptist Church / Rick Santorum / One Million Moms / other bigoted individuals and organizations don’t really speak for God. The truth is, he loves you!”

  27. plutosdad says

    I agree. The problem with faith is not even the particular beliefs, the tribalism or the hatred. The problem is faith itself. As JT has been writing about lately, faith, by its very nature, is antithetical to reason. Faith is not about reality, about trying to understand reality, or tries to question or challenge itself in any way. That is the opposite of faith.

    When I finally became an atheist, after years of struggling, it was that fact: reason and the scientific method enables us to make lives better because it is always challenging the status quo and current beliefs. While faith is reactionary, trying to go backwards.

    The truth must trump our beliefs, always, or we cannot interact with each other in ways that truly help each other.

    It doesn’t matter that people of faith have done good things, or even bad things. Our bitterness or anger is not the reason to not believe them. It’s because faith does not involve change or growth of ideas.

  28. Jubal DiGriz says

    Natalie, this is an extremely good post. Your “soft-spoken, wimpy, spineless” voice is very strong here.

    The best part for me is when you connected atheism to a larger lifestyle of skepticism, and LGBTQ rights and respect only increase when skepticism is encouraged.

    It’s very good your tweets and article ruffled feathers and got people annoyed, because now they’re talking and the notion of ditching religion with the rest of oppressive cultural norms is now floating around out there.

  29. Anders says

    Martin Luther quotes:

    Faith must trample under foot all reason, sense, and understanding.

    “Reason is the Devil’s greatest whore; by nature and manner of being she is a noxious whore; she is a prostitute, the Devil’s appointed whore; whore eaten by scab and leprosy who ought to be trodden under foot and destroyed, she and her wisdom… Throw dung in her face to make her ugly. She is and she ought to be drowned in baptism… She would deserve, the wretch, to be banished to the filthiest place in the house, to the closets.”

    —Martin Luther, Works, Erlangen Edition v. 16, pp. 142-148.

    “Reason is the greatest enemy that faith has; it never comes to the aid of spiritual things, but—more frequently than not—struggles against the divine Word, treating with contempt all that emanates from God.”

    —Martin Luther, Table Talks in 1569.

    • Besomyka says

      “I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with senses, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use and by some other means to give us knowledge which we can attain by them.” -Galileo Galilei

      • Andrew says

        “The church at the time of Galileo was much more faithful to reason than Galileo himself, and also took into consideration the ethical and social consequences of Galileo’s doctrine. Its verdict against Gaileo was rational and just, and revisionism can be legitimized solely for motives of political opportunism.”
        -Cardinal Josef Ratzinger quoting P. Feyerabend with approval, 1990

  30. Sofia says

    Speaking as one of those irrational God-believers who also happens to be trans, I’m quite glad you decided to speak your mind. Anyone who is so offended by the synthesis of two things you’re normally so upfront about that they decide to stop reading something as consistently thought-provoking as your blog probably isn’t the type of reader you want anyway. For me, so long as you keep posting thoughtful things, I’ll keep on reading :)

    At any rate, I suspect a large part of the dislike stems from the title. “God does not love trans people” can just as easily be interpreted as “God hates trans people”, which might be a little more disturbing than “God doesn’t like trans people because He doesn’t exist.”

  31. Rieux says

    This is terrific, Natalie.

    As you probably know, some of the points you make here overlap with/are presaged by Greta Christina’s “Being an Atheist in the Queer Community.” That’s a commendable essay too (hardly a surprise, given the author), but where your post and that one overlap I think your analysis here is more substantive and incisive.

    Noting your concerns about how this post will be received, I hope you know (and I hope you’ve noticed from this comment thread!) that you have a very large number of supporters, effectively all of us trans- and queer-allied skeptics who have your back in any conflict you get into over ideas like these. We can’t pretend to be utterly free of cis or straight privilege (or for that matter the white or male or class varieties), but a lot of us know that, and in any case we care.

    Actually, I think your analysis in a couple of places here might be clarified by pointing out that there’s another privilege at work in the response to you—religious privilege!—but quite possibly this post is already chock-full of meaty conceptual content as it is.

    To my mind, the most crucial point you’re making here is your explanation of the important reasons that atheists, trans or otherwise, have for concluding that religion-as-such, and not just certain forms of religion that tend to be unpopular in liberal communities, is a serious threat to justice and human concern. I think this hits the nail on the head:

    [S]aying “God loves trans people” has absolutely no more underlying justification, evidence or substance than does “God hates fags”. Neither party has any evidence on which to base this, and both are just extrapolations based on assuming God’s will ought reflect their own. We cannot possibly know how God feels about anyone (entertaining briefly the possibility that He even exists). When you introduce “God loves trans people” into the dialogue, you have nothing backing you up with which to cause a transphobic religious believer to accept your message or reconsider their position, but you have just validated, supported and helped normalize his belief in God- a God that he probably thinks hates us very, very much. Congrats! You spur on religious belief which, more often than not, maintains a climate of bigotry towards LGBTQ individuals. You insulate and protect them. You assent to the foundations of their hate, which they claim as justification. Asserting there is a God, and supporting the human tendency towards religious faith (whatever its form), does nothing but bolster the underlying principles on which the Westboro Baptist Church is based. If we wish to fight these organizations, we can’t do so simply pitting our own intuitive, faith-based assumption of God against theirs.

    That’s exactly right.

    Your concentration above is on the fact that “God exists” is an unfounded notion that is both (1) crucial to queer-hating theology and (2) ratified, and thus enabled, by all theistic theology, including “God loves trans people.” That is indeed a crucial point, but I think it’s nearly as important to point out that the next logical step for both nasty and nice theologies is to assert that whatever it is that God hates or loves, we ought to feel the same way about those things. One can’t build either side’s theological argument without presuming that God’s reactions—approval, disapproval, value, denunciation, and so on—have necessarily legitimacy of their own… which means: without presuming that His should dictate ours.

    And that presumption just as baseless and illegitimate as “God exists” is: even if we accept for the sake of argument that a god (as conceived by just about any particular religious outlook, including some rather liberal ones) does exist, it remains entirely possible that the moral and just reaction to its ideas and demands would be for us to denounce them, to denounce the god, and to fight it as hard as we can. The fact that the one true god hates or loves something does nothing to demonstrate that we should as well.

    Now, you did glancingly reference this issue in the sentence of your post immediately following the passage I quoted above. (To wit, with emphasis added: “We need to attack the foundation: the idea that faith is a good, or at least harmless, thing, and that God’s will is what matters and takes precedence over secular considerations and ethics….”) I guess I idiosyncratically would have liked the issue drawn out more.

    But that’s really just nitpicky carping. The main point is that this is a terrific essay; you have numerous things to say here that badly need to be said; and I hope you know that lots of us have your back.

    Thank you!

  32. zengaze says

    Great post, and fantastic discussion within the thread! Some fantastic contributions made.

    Do not feed the monster that feeds on you.

    • says

      Thanks zengaze, as well as Anders, Dalillama, Natalie, Happiestsadist, Ms. Daisy Cutter, and others of you who are dealing with the several assholes over at the Atheist Experience thread – it’s rather dismaying that views that have more in common with religiously-motivated anti-gay and anti-trans bigotry are being energetically defended over there. So much for fighting the good fight. :-(

      • Anders says

        Thank you. It’s a pity that it’s needed, but it feels good to be squarely on the side of right in this one. :)

      • Anders says

        You also have to remember that you bear the brunt of any attacks. First of all, they touch you personally in a way they can never touch us. Secondly – yes, we’re allies but when the debate ends we can step out into society at large and still be cis-hetero-men (or whatever)… we can recharge our batteries a way you can’t. So in a way it’s a lot easier for us to keep on slogging. (At the same way, your experiences are absolutely crucial to keep us on the right path, of course).

  33. beckykent says

    Very thorough, well thought out criticism. I understand the anxiety about the responses whenever you venture to challenge religion as a whole. Many are OK with criticising individual religions, and then falling back on their own versions of faith.
    I always fall back on the omnipotent, omniscient, compassionate conundrum. If your deity is all three as is supposedly the case in the Abrahamic religions and extends to many others, why would it allow the pain and suffering in the world. Specifically, for trans people, why would a compassionate deity wire my brain in such a manner that I spent my whole life conflicted, depressed and angry? Would an all-powerful, compassionate god force me to lose everything that I have spent the past 30 years working for, in order to end the conflict?
    I think not. I believe that humans create deities to explain those things that they cannot otherwise explain. The deity gets modified when another explanation is found.
    I am glad to have found this blog. I like your writing.

  34. fester60613 says

    Thank you for your very important post, and even more so for your clarity of thinking and exposition.
    I’ve been struggling with some of the issues you address and you have provided me a direction for my thoughts – a direction that I doubt would obtain anywhere else.
    My gratitude.

  35. timrz says

    As a fully skeptical Christian, I too question WHY like an oversized 3yr old. As I consider myself a “Real” Christian, I also agree 100% on the dangers of religion. Its even literally Biblical (and I’m not taking these out of context). The bible is pretty clear on religion, do just a quick search and you will find that (the bible’s)God hold’s religion in the highest contempt. 2 Timoth 3:5 reads “They will maintain the outward appearance of religion but will have repudiated its power. So avoid people like these.” James 1:26-27 says “If someone thinks he is religious, yet does not control his tongue, and so deceives his heart, his religion is futile. Pure and undefiled religion before God is this: to care for orphans and widows in their misfortune, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” I think that even you would agree that THAT religion has its value. FYI, except for condemning religious hypocracy, that’s the only mention of good religion in the bible. And if you don’t think that there are things of the world to keep yourself “unstained” from, just flip on the TV to any news station, or god forbid “reality TV” and listen for 5 minutes.
    Also, I tend to push the theme of Love as important as well, but loving yourself is the MOST important thing in life? I know that the majority of your readers seriously struggle with how society values them, and it colors their views of themselves, but if the most important thing is to love yourself, that would apply just as much to those people who abuse and hate LGBTQs. Do you really want them to love themselves the way they are as well? Love, as much as religion, can be used in devastating ways, and as justification for all sorts of wrong. Instead of forcing unquestioning self-love, I’ve found it important to find qualities that are lovable and to nurture those. Prune the qualities that are detrimental, including unwarranted self-loathing, and shape who you are into a healthy understanding of yourself and the world.

    If you’re still reading, I have two atheistic side questions that I’d love any input on.
    1. As an atheist, what govern’s right or wrong(morality)?
    2. As an atheist, why does what we do or think matter at all? Will it still matter(or as much) in 100 years, 1000, 10,000?
    I’m not being a jerk, I’ve just noticed that you used the word “right” and “matters” and “important”, and I was wondering what the driving force/scale/measurement behind those ideas was. Theists can point to God’s will, but I don’t know how atheists rationalize, and I’m extremely curious.

    • Caravelle says

      Well… as a Christian, why do you think things are right or wrong or important ? Because God said so ? You really have no further opinion than that ? Does the fact that something affects the lives of more or fewer people in small or large ways play any role in how “important” it is ? Does the likelihood that something will make other people suffer have anything to do with whether it’s wrong ? Does something’s capacity to alleviate suffering and bring happiness at all affect whether it’s right ?

      Morality is human. It’s a set of feelings, impulses and codes that regulate our interactions with each other as a social species. Even among humans morality isn’t a completely unique and consistent system – there can be legitimate disagreements as to whether a moral system should give higher weight to order, or freedom, or happiness. But it’s a subject we can discuss because it’s mostly universal over all of humanity – if it weren’t we wouldn’t be viable as a social species.

      Atheists are human, ergo atheists have morality for the same reasons humans at large have morality.

      And as a Christian, do you think “mattering” is proportional to “lasting” ? Or do you think only eternal things can matter ? Or do you think only things that are observed and remembered by some intelligence matter ? Do things that exist in a certain place for a certain time need validation beyond their “mere” existence ?

      I’m not being a jerk

      That’s not really for you to tell us is it ? You probably meant “I don’t want to come across as a jerk” or something. Not that I think you were a jerk in this case, just unfortunate phrasing.

      • Caravelle says

        I’ve been reading LessWrong too much lately, all this talk of “mattering” made me think of this:
        http://lesswrong.com/lw/ro/2place_and_1place_words/

        Basically, there’s “matters”, and “matters to“. The latter is easy to see in everyday life and easy to understand; “this matters to me”, “this matters to the economy”, “this matters to the ecosystem”. In practice we can make it even easier to analyse by seeing it’s a lot like “affects significantly” (most of the emotional dimension of “matters to” lies in the “significantly”).

        But what does “matters” mean ? Is it somehow derived from “matters to” ? Is it a kind of universal function of “mattering” that doesn’t need a second argument – that applies to all arguments, or some kind of perfect weighted mean of them ? That’s what I feel it should mean, and one can sort of see why God would be necessary in that case – “God” would be the object that turns “matters to” into “matters, period” : “matters” means “matters to God”.

        But then I have a question : what is this function’s relationship with “matters to” ? In other words, if X matters, what does that imply for what X matters to me ? to humanity ? to a pebble ? to the Universe ? If something doesn’t matter to anything else, does it “matter” ? Conversely, if something “matters” but doesn’t affect Steve in any way, shape or form and never will; in fact its light cone and Steve’s never even intersect… Does that thing’s “mattering” make it matter more to Steve ?

        In other words, what does the “matter” concept contain that isn’t already contained in “matters to” ?

    • Rieux says

      As a fully skeptical Christian….

      You’ll forgive us if we find that to be an oxymoron.

      As I consider myself a “Real” Christian….

      Oh, good! Are you a “True” Scotsman, too?

      Its even literally Biblical… God hold’s religion in the highest contempt.

      Ouch. Some of us (such as, perhaps, Jason) hold brutal apostrophe abuse in similar contempt.

      Meanwhile, based on ordinary definitions of “religion,” Christianity is a religion. So the attempt to differentiate one from the other (except, of course, to note that Christianity is only a subset of religion) is awfully silly.

      As an atheist, what govern’s right or wrong(morality)?

      Once again—the apostrophe abuse, it burns!

      Beyond that: there are numerous ethical theories that do not rely on gods. Philosophers have been formulating secular ethical theories for thousands of years—for far longer than Christianity has existed. Possibly you should read a book or two that isn’t the Bible. Or just run a simple Google search—say, for “atheist morality” or “ethics without gods.” Your question has been answered so many thousands of times that one really has to wonder how interested you are in looking into it.

      As an atheist, why does what we do or think matter at all?

      Because we think it does, and that’s all the “matter”ness we’re claiming. Do you seriously believe that if there were no gods, nothing you care about would “matter”? What do you think you caring about it means?

      Will it still matter(or as much) in 100 years, 1000, 10,000?

      Can you not even conceive of the notion of a subjective frame of reference? What makes you think that things can objectively “matter,” as opposed to “matter” to people, at all?

      I’ve just noticed that you used the word “right” and “matters” and “important”, and I was wondering what the driving force/scale/measurement behind those ideas was. Theists can point to God’s will….

      Not coherently you can’t; Plato proved that 2,400 years ago. Any doofus can declare himself the One True Arbiter of good, meaning, and significance; that does nothing to make it so, even if he happens to be the superduperperson whose existence you fantasize about. “God’s will” is either arbitrary (and thus worthless as a basis for objective right/meaning/significance) or superfluous (ditto), so it actually gets you nowhere at all. Again, that simple insight is centuries older than Christianity.

      Despite your ignorance and arrogance, theists are in no better position to talk about ethics, meaning, or significance than atheists are. You-plural do seem to be statistically more likely to be ignorant of thousands of years’ worth of philosophical investigation of such topics, though.

      I don’t know how atheists rationalize….

      As much as possible, we don’t rationalize; that’s the bailiwick of religious folks. We prefer to reason instead.

    • pyrobryan says

      1. As an atheist, what govern’s right or wrong(morality)?

      To respond to this, I will assume that you believe that morality comes from god; that god decrees what is moral and what is immoral and that god and only god can say what is moral or immoral and that decisions of morality are up to god’s will. If that is the case, would you then believe that rape was morally acceptable if god said so?

      I think there are 3 responses to that question:

      1. Yes – in which case your morality is baseless and useless and far inferior to secular morality.

      2. No – then you get your morality from the same place as an atheist; a judgement of what is for the good of the individual and for society.

      3. God would never say rape is morally acceptable – you recognize that there is something intrinsic about rape that makes it immoral. Despite the fact that you believe that god is the ultimate and only arbiter of morality, you would not change your view on the morality of rape based on god’s decree. Therefore, you get your morals from the same place as an atheist (see point 2 again)

      2. As an atheist, why does what we do or think matter at all? Will it still matter(or as much) in 100 years, 1000, 10,000?

      Let’s just say, for argument’s sake, that it was absolutely and incontrovertibly proven that god does not exist. On the same day that this discovery was made known to all people, a scientist elsewhere announces that they have cured cancer. Do you think that 100 years later people wouldn’t care that cancer had been cured? Do you think that people who developed cancer wouldn’t seek treatment because there is no god? Would you suddenly stop loving your friends and family? Would you just quit work/school and lose all desire to live a full and productive life?

    • Besomyka says

      1. As an atheist, what govern’s right or wrong(morality)?

      Morality is an extension of empathy, which is a feature of a well-functioning human brain. Some people don’t experience empathy, they are called sociopaths, and in general they appear amoral and sometimes immoral.

      More specifically, I feel what is right and wrong instinctively – the same way you do when you read an old testament passage about dashing baby’s heads against rocks and – I hope – judge that to be a cruel act. Or read about Abraham getting ready to kill his son, and have doubt that if you heard a voice in your head telling you to kill your son, that I would hope would give you pause and a sick feeling in your stomach.

      The social customs of morality are culture-specific, but are founded on this fundamental biological reaction. This empathy is no more God-given than my fingers are.

      There’s some interesting research coming out about how our brains create empathy. There’s some evidence that I’ve seen that when you ‘feel the pain of others’, you really do. It’s not just an illusion, but the patterns of activation in your brain mimic what is done when you experience it directly.

      2. As an atheist, why does what we do or think matter at all? Will it still matter(or as much) in 100 years, 1000, 10,000?

      My actions matter to me now, and they matter to the people I care about around me now. They may matter to others after I’m gone, but probably not for long. That’s true of almost everyone, though. Any affect I have on people will be indirect, but that’s okay.

      Isn’t that enough?

  36. says

    Excellent piece, Natalie. I agree with every word. As well as most of the words of the responders.

    A couple of thoughts:

    There is one word that is strangely missing from this entire conversation (unless it whizzed by me unnoticed). That is the word SPIRITUALITY.

    As many of you are aware “religion” and “spirituality” are even more different than “sex” and “gender.”

    Religion has been defined, I think quite accurately, as “institutionalized spirituality.” And what are institutions? Big. Rigid. Conformist. Authoritarian. Ugly.

    But spirituality, ah, that’s something entirely different. My definition of it is: “bonding with the universe.” You are free to define it as you choose.

    In every human culture, present and past, there seems to have been some component of spirituality. I can’t say it’s a strictly human characteristic. Animals may share this trait, as they do a sense of morality/ethics/compassion/empathy/sense of justice – MORALITY IS NOT AN EXCLUSIVELY HUMAN TRAIT. Indeed, as Mark Twain so eloquently said, man may be the least moral animal!

    So we don’t need religion to be moral. Perhaps, as many of you have suggested, we need to supercede religion to be moral.

    Spirituality perhaps is still closely associated with religion and/or mythology, but it is far larger than these human creations. Reason and science may offer even better portals to spirituality. The more we learn about the universe, the more wondrous it seems. Not fear and awe of the supernatural. But amazement, enchantment, and love of the natural ALL.

    What we see in the structure of the microcosm and the macrocosm is energy seeking order, emerging complexity, inconceivable beauty and vast oceans of that which is still unknown. Marvelously unknown. It’s the Great Mystery. But unknowable? I’m not sure I would go there. Aren’t we the universe coming to know itself?

    Science itself now points to a universal energy – the quantum field – that connects everything, so that electrons light years away from each other “know” what the other is doing. There is a unity. There is form, and order, and beauty. And all of this is, to use a loaded word, “sacred.” To me the entire universe is sacred, and filled with meaning. There is no such thing as meaninglessness.

    I am not willing to abdicate the word “sacred” to the religionists. Nor “spirituality.” Nor even “faith.” I can’t fully explain gravity, no one can. But I have faith in it. I have faith that the sun will rise in the east tomorrow. I have faith in myself, and in my true friends. So you see, I have rational faith. Believing that “God” came to earth 2000 years ago through a “virgin birth,” was crucified, died for my sins, rose from the dead and ascended to heaven, and now is my lord and saviour is mythological faith.

    They can have the word “religion.” I have no use for it. Nor any of their dogma. If they would like to meet to discuss the golden threads that run through all religions of: love for one another, forgiveness, non-judgment, justice for all, and unity, I would be more than happy to share in that conversation regarding universal values. But I walk away when they get divisive talking about chosen people, and final prophets, and the only way, and heaven and hell, and original sin, and only-begotten sons, a worldview based on dualism, and literal readings of ancient myths.

    These are the components of religion that do not lead to spirituality, they lead away from it. Only the pathway of reason, which is another word for “truth,” leads toward real spirituality. And then, as you go through the portal, reason itself is transcended and you merge with the ALL, perhaps just briefly, but that’s enough to change your life. That’s the dark night of the soul. That’s looking into the abyss. That’s touching for just a moment the field of the eternal. It’s something that should be done by yourself. No intermediaries. No priests. No rabbis. No gurus. No self-help authors. Just you and the universe, one-on-one.

    If you make it back, you’ll have a spirituality worth talking about.

  37. says

    I had never seen this post before, but The Heresy Club linked to it today and I was blown away. You really nailed what I’ve found so troubling about the “God loves queer people” arguments.

    Making statements of supposed fact based on a fantasy–regardless of how pleasant your version of it is–is inherently dangerous, because it reinforces fantasy as valid. There’s no built in check or logic to faith. There’s no way to empirically prove the opinions of an imagined being. By treating faith as something people should base their worth on, you’re taking away rationality and self-acceptance and handing power over to an imagined being that can be twisted and sculpted to suit anyone’s desires.

  38. Concentratedwater, OM says

    Which god(s) has/have addressed trans-people? On a related note, a neighbor of mine is selling straw at $50/ton. Would you like some?

    • Besomyka says

      Assuming you’re serious… well, there’s a Methodist church her in Austin that welcomes LGBT people, and instructs the congregation that God loves everybody. They make it a point that ‘everybody’ includes trans people. There’s another Methodist church in San Marcos that is the same way.

      So… ‘Methodist God’, at least accosting to some of their pastors and reverends. I’m aware of other Christian denominations that say similar things.

  39. Ari says

    Thank you so much for writing. I to am often accused of just picking on Judeo christian religions but all of them are hurtful towards people who aren’t the “norm”. Personal belief in a higher power or existence is just that, personal. It shouldn’t dictate the acceptance of other people’s differences or not.

    Anything, religion based or not, that wants anyone to just accept information with out proof or logical reasoning is dangerous. Religion creates large groups of people that lack critical thinking skills to make up their own minds.

    The reality of religion is human’s created it for their own agendas – i.e. contorling groups of “uneducated people” to behave in the best interest of the people who rule over them.

    I think transpeople, speaking as a transman, need to accept that religion doesn’t accept people like us, and stop supporting that we need religion to accept us in order to be OK. You are already OK!

  40. Shaun says

    Every single criticism against religion you had was one that could be mostly levied at Abrahamics… It’s like you only said “I think ALL religion is harmful” just to cover your ass from people pointing out your main problem is with Abrahamic religions. Well I’m going to point it out, because you’re in denial.

    Your main problem is with Abrahamics, you have no right to talk about others, because you obviously don’t know. I am Neo Pagan (Not Celtic or Norse, but closer to Wicca, though I hate that term) and my God IS trans. My religion requires rational thinking and the creed of ‘An ye harm none, do as ye will’. We believe everyone has a right to their own path in life, and that we do not have the only ticket to truth or God. So, PLEASE enlighten me as to how my religion could possibly be harmful? I would LOVE to know.

    Atheism is the triumph of “rationality” over itself, by the way. And is just as harmful as the Abrahamics, in that it gives the holder a false sense of superiority. In unbiased truth, there is no more proof in a lack of deity than there is for the existence of it. If you were truly rational and faithless, you’d have no choice but to be an Agnostic (The truth of this is in the definitions of both. A-theist is without God/s and A-gnostic is admitting lack of knowledge about God/s). The simple fact that you consider yourself an Atheist is proof that you are not as rational as you would like to believe.

    Atheism is the religion of anti-religion. It is the religion of those who want to believe in something, but scorn belief because reasons. So you believe in nothing, and strongly. And in my opinion, it is second only to Abrahamic religions in it’s dangerousness and harm to society. Because just like their religions, yours seeks to remove all who disagree with it because you’ve got it in your head that your way is the only true path. The only right way. And that is always a dangerous thought system to have, for anyone in your way.

    All religion is not bad, just those that do not allow that you can be wrong, or that others could be right. Rank yourself with Abrahamics, Atheist. Because it is with their zealousness and harmfulness that you squarely belong. =T

    • says

      Yeah, yeah, yeah.

      Your magical wonderful trans-god/ess religion is still harmful, because you still believe in a magical entity that isn’t there, and still allow FAITH (which is all about not questioning, not asking “maybe I have this shit totally wrong? maybe what I’m about to do might actually hurt someone?”) to be the basis for your beliefs, and your beliefs to be the basis for your actions.

      Your “atheists are just as bad as fundamentalist Christians!” argument isn’t anything new, or anything impressive. It’s silly, and doesn’t have any basis other than your own conviction in its truth: i.e. faith, exactly what makes ALL religions, including new agey liberalish neo-pagan ones, dangerous.

      Ever seen a trans woman excluded from a neo-pagan coven because she didn’t have “female energy”? ALL religions are dangerous, and are used to justify awful things.

      Religion isn’t the ONLY thing used to justify awful beliefs and actions. Psuedo-science, superstition, regular basic day-to-day bigotry… all of those things can be used to. But religion is an especially powerful type of justifying system.

  41. sidneyjacket says

    I appreciate your value of skepticism, and I believe your words are well thought out. I have enjoyed and found many of your posts (including this one) immeasurably helpful in understanding myself. (“The Null HypotheCis” being my favorite so far.) So in the spirit of skepticism I’d like to offer some considerations you may have overlooked. If you feel that I’ve misinterpreted your words in any way please don’t hesitate to correct me.

    I believe that some of your own arguments are based on assumptions, and while I don’t think this is avoidable, I believe it is important to consider.

    Your argument seems to be built off the assumption that your skepticism that led you to atheism is reliable. I believe that just as your skeptic experiences led you to a belief in atheism, others different experiences could lead to a belief in God through skepticism.

    It’s possible that atheism is potentially dangerous in the same way that religion is described. If religion can be harmful based on the possibility that religious assumptions can be contradictory to truth, I see no reason to doubt atheism could do the same thing. If religion could lead peoples beliefs away from the possibility that there is no God, then atheism could lead peoples beliefs away from the possibility that there is a God.

    I believe that careful consideration is the only doctrine we can rely on, and even then, it only produces the best answers we can piece together through our limited experiences and understanding.

  42. besomyka says

    I would say in response that

    1) you’re making a category mistake. Atheism is not a belief, it is a conclusion. And it’s not a conclusion about the state of the world as much is it is a conclusion that all the prophets and books that have made supernatural claims thus far have been, completely and without exception, unjustified in their pronouncements.

    2) If someone else applied skeptical and rational thought and concluded God exists, I would be curious to hear the argument. I’ve read a lot of philosophy in which people did turn their rational minds to this question, but they have been woefully inadequate to date.

    Do you happen to know of any novel ones?

    I would argue that applying skeptical thinking to religious beliefs would necessarily lead to some form of strong agnosticism or weak atheism.

    3) I’m curious why you didn’t use the plural of ‘God’? Are you sure, if it’s even possible for the supernatural to exist, that there is only one?

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  1. [...] This guest Transadvocate post comes from Natalie Reid. Reid describes herself as “a magical young woman who lives in the mists and pines of Vancouver, British Columbia, where she fends off the oppressive gloom and darkness basking in the warm glow of her laptop, thinking things about stuff and writing stuff about the things.” You can read more about her here. [...]

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