Crommunist exclusive: I interview Ashu Solo

This morning I briefed you on a fight going on in Saskatoon between the city’s mayor and one of its citizens over a led prayer at a volunteer appreciation dinner. Worse, perhaps, than the mayor’s recalcitrance, was the racist and anti-immigrant backlash Mr. Ashu Solo faced as a result of speaking out, despite the fact that he was born in Canada (brown people are easy to demonize). Perhaps even worse than that was the uninformed and lazy reaction from other atheists who decided that, despite not having been there or knowing anything about the situation, they knew the correct way to handle things.

I spoke to Mr. Solo via Facebook and e-mail, and asked him a few questions about the situation. Here is an edited version of his responses*. [Read more…]

Because I am an atheist: The Radula

Today’s submission comes from atheist science blogger ‘The Radula

Because I am an atheist…

  • I no longer have to struggle to reconcile what I see and experience with what I want to believe is true, or what I’m told I should believe is true. I must evaluate everything on its own merits, not by comparing it to the requirements of my faith.
  • I can look at people who are different than me, people who are gay, people who are of different color, people who have different religions, people who have different ideas… and not see them as sinners that need to be saved, but as people who have had different experiences or made different choices. I do not think that making them believe as I do is an act of righteousness, although there are times it may be an act of reason.
  • I try to squeeze every bit of joy, knowledge, and experience out of this life. I know there is no other, and that some day I will be no more. If I want joy, I need it here. If I want to share my love, I need to do it in this lifetime. If I want to be remembered, if I want to leave a mark, if I want to know that something of me goes on, it must be that I’ve done something memorable, something that made an impact, something that changes some little piece of the world.
  • I am responsible for my own actions and my own inaction. Man is not “like an ass, ridden at times by God and at others by Satan” (Martin Luther).  Jesus does not take the wheel. Ganesha does not remove the obstacles, and the Goddess isn’t going to bless me. There is no divine will guiding my steps, and I can’t use it as an excuse for failure, nor can I use it as a reason for success (no, I’m not always right because God is on my side).

Go read the rest – it’s really good.

Consider submitting your own statement, by e-mail or as a comment!

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Taking them on Solo

I have, in the past, erroneously made the point that Canada’s Charter does not explicitly separate church and state. I thought it was cute and curious that a country like Canada, with a very secular population (particularly compared to the United States), has no need to enshrine and codify the explicit segregation between religious matters and governmental ones. Of course, as with so many things that I just make up off the top of my head, it turns out that I am wrong. Section twenty-seven of the Charter, guaranteeing a right to multiculturalism, has been interpreted by the courts as expressly forbidding government recognition of one religious tradition over others.

Someone should probably tell the mayor of Saskatoon that: [Read more…]

Because I am an atheist: ZB

Today’s contribution was submitted via e-mail by ZB:

Because I am an atheist…

I was better able to deal with having cancer.

In May 2010, I was diagnosed with a form of cancer called follicular lymphoma.  It was in stage 3, and it only goes to stage 4.  I learned from my oncologist that the form of cancer I have is not curable, but it responds well to treatment.

From the first mention of lymphoma to knowing exactly what I had and what my treatment options were and the likely outcome was about two months.  During that time, many questions crossed my mind.  But I realized that being an atheist for more than two decades gave me a big advantage mentally and emotionally.  I never asked “Why me?” or wondered how this fit into God’s plan.  I spent that time looking into the details of my medical coverage, making plans for various  possible outcomes, etc.  But I didn’t waste one nano-second praying.

When I knew the full details of the diagnosis and the planned course of treatment, I told my family and friends.  Everyone told me they were sorry to hear about the cancer.  But I noticed an interesting difference in the response of atheists and christians.  The atheists offered real help.  I received offers to help with yard work, house work, pool cleaning, transportation to treatments, etc.  From the christians, with few exceptions, all that was offered was prayers.  One christian, who knows I am an atheist, told me he was going to pray for me whether I wanted him to or not.  I responded that it would not hurt me, and if it made him feel better to go ahead and pray.

I have been in remission since November 2010, thanks to my oncologist and his caring staff, as well as all of those scientists and doctors doing research on cancer over the decades.

Consider submitting your own statement, by e-mail or as a comment!

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P.S. I want to extend my personal thanks to all those who have responded with their deeply personal stories. I am humbled and grateful to see such an outpouring of raw honesty and personal disclosure. If you’ve been enjoying this series so far, please consider submitting something yourself, either by e-mail or as a comment.

In loco parentis

One of the things that I have found in my relatively few years involved in scientific research is that there are parts that are much more difficult than others. From conception to execution to communication, there are a number of repeatable discrete steps in the research pipeline, and while it varies somewhat, there is definitely a pattern. I know that lab work is tricky, and nobody likes grant writing, but the hardest part for me is coming up with a research question. The way in which you ask the question dictates, to a certain extent, how you approach answering it. Some questions, like “why is math hard” are far too broad and poorly-defined to be operationalized. Others, like “does fire ruin my new phone” are too trivial and mundane to be worthwhile.

A properly-created research question is money in the bank. So, as an act of magnanimity, I am offering up this fruitful research question for free, to be researched by anyone who wants to tackle it. “What is it about having kids that turns people into stupid assholes?“: [Read more…]

Kiva project update: May 2012

I’ve been slacking again, but I took the opportunity today to update our Kiva project.

Mwanamisi is a married woman with 3 children, all of whom attend school. She owns a house that neither has electricity nor piped water. Her greatest monthly expenses are food and school fees. For the past five years, she has operated a weaving business. She uses coconut fronds to make roofing materials to sell from her home to her customers. She faces a major challenge of high transport expenses and seasonality. She dreams of starting a shop. With the Kshs. 40,000 she wants to purchase additional coconut fronds and increase her products. She decided to join Yehu to access loans to uplift her living standards.

Mohammad is 20 years old and lives in Gaza with his parents, who depend on him financially. He started work on his own farm recently; he raises and sells sheep and sheep products. His dream is to enlarge his business. He needs this youth loan to cover costs, so he asked Ryada for funds to build an additional enclosure for his sheep. He will be able to gain income and ensure economic stability for his family.

Grace is a 34-year-old married woman with three children living in Kagadi, Uganda. She operates a stationary business in Kagadi, which she has run for a period of five years. She got start-up capital from savings, as she first worked in a hotel as a waitress. Inadequate capital and price fluctuations are challenging factors affecting her business. She would like to educate her children and hire employees to help her expand her business. Grace wants a loan to buy books, pens, and reams of paper to sell.

This client, Masika, is the president of the loan association Espoir. A brave and tireless woman and an entrepreneur, she is 60 years old, divorced, and the mother of seven children. Among the births, there are twins. All of the children have their own homes already. Masika sells “mandale”, a local beverage. She started her business with her own funds from her husband before they divorced. Then she benefited from an initial loan as additional funding around 2008 from the microfinance institution Hekima. She says that this business has brought up her children, that is, the profits from her business went toward savings, food, and schooling costs. Masika makes her sales out of her home. However, she just obtained her 12th loan. This client decided to reduce the loan amount because a financial crisis is looming. This new loan must serve to supply her with the ingredients for making “mandale” drink (2 sacks of corn, sorghum, etc.) In addition, her ambition is to buy more plots of land for her children. This client thanks Hekima and her partners for their actions helping poor women with low incomes to become autonomous.

Sammy is a prospective student applying for a loan to start work on a Bachelor’s degree in Telecommunications at Strathmore University.

So there it is. I will try to remember to bug you to help me pick loans (as my usual thing is just to pick African women) when our money comes in at the beginning of June.

For the month of October, we made $46.38, and loaned $50.
For the month of November, we made $65.81, and loaned $50.
For the month of December, we made $44.76, and loaned $50.
For the month of January, we made $58.59.
For the month of February, we made $57.33 and loaned $125.

Total amount loaned so far: $275
Total loan funds repaid: $33.07
Fund balance: $23.47

Because I am an atheist: jetboy

Today’s submission comes from commenter jetboy:

Because I am an atheist…

Neither death nor life hold any fear for me. I am a happier person knowing there is no purpose other than that which I assign. I am happier knowing that each atom in my body is as immortal as any being could wish for. I no longer wait for inspiration; I work until it comes.

Because I am an atheist, I no longer have any thing to attribute or any one to blame for the situations I find myself in. This means I can more easily extricate myself from those situations, or deal with events as they happen.

Because I am an atheist, I no longer tolerate the notion that one’s lot in life is predetermined or the result of cosmic justice. I no longer tolerate the idea that it is right to enjoy privilege while others suffer.

Because I am an atheist, I embrace the notion that each of us is only here once, and the only right thing to do is to make it as enriching as possible to as many as possible.

Because I am an atheist, I listen to my doctors and remain active in pursuing the cures to my illnesses, ones that remained untreated for too long. I exercise, I track my diet scrupulously, and spread the word about the diseases I previously thought were mere symptoms of some punishment laid against me.

Because I am an atheist, I am at peace. Even though I pursue my humanist causes with zeal and passion, I am at peace in the middle of struggle. I know now that there is nothing more that can be done to me than kill me.

Because I am an atheist, I am returning to school to finish my degree. I intend to spend my twilight years interpreting data from probes.

Because I am an atheist, I no longer feel obligated to tolerate the ridiculous and poisonous ideas infecting my friends and family. I am a happy, centered, life-enjoying, astronomy-loving ass. And I have most of you to thank for it.

We’ll tread that fine line…

I hope nobody mistakes my approach to racism and cultural tolerance as ‘the right way’. People a lot more well-versed than I am in the vagaries of anthropology, history, sociology, and psychology (just to name a few relevant fields that I am utterly clueless in) have time and again failed to find the surefire path forward to diplomacy and harmony. I can barely sweet-talk women at the bar. If there is a ‘right way’, and I don’t believe that there is one, I’m an unlikely candidate to be the one who comes across it.

That being said, I know that some methods are better than others. There may be few things that we know to be surefire correct, but there are a hell of a lot that we know to be just plain wrong. There are, like logical fallacies or lousy apologetics arguments or privileged whines, arguments that are uttered pre-refuted. We know colour blindness doesn’t work, we know that ‘reverse discrimination’ isn’t what people say it is, we know that dividing the world into ‘racists’ and ‘non-racists’ is a house built on the sand of bad psychology. We can dispose of these arguments just like we can the “well then why are there still monkeys” ‘proof’ that evolution is a liberal conspiracy from the Muslim atheist devil.

Some situations, however, are quite a bit more tricky: [Read more…]

Because I am an atheist: Stephanie Zvan

Today’s submission comes from fellow FTBer (and friend) Stephanie Zvan of Almost Diamonds:

Because I am an atheist…

…I am alive. That sounds hyperbolic, but bear with me.

There is much about my life now that I love–being able to write for (a small amount of) money, having the kind of love life that most people will never even strive for because they don’t believe it’s possible, having excellent friends and challenging work both as an employee and as a volunteer–but I had to survive long enough to get here. There have been plenty of times when that was in doubt.

I was physically and emotionally abused at home. I was pathologically shy. I was scared of everything. I was a year younger than everyone else in my class in school. I was serious and brainy. I didn’t wear the same clothes or haircuts as other kids. I attended six different elementary schools in three states. I wasn’t uncoordinated, but I had very little interest in competitive sports. I was poor in the exurbs in the 80s. I was targeted by one sexual predator when I was about nine and another (more successfully) when I was fifteen. I dated more than one guy who blamed me for his inability to act like a decent human being. [Read more…]

The paradox of science and conservatism

I expend a great deal of time and effort in the disparagement of conservative ideologies. They oversimplify complex issues to the point where the ‘solutions’ that arise from such ideologies are often more harmful than the problems they purport to ‘fix’. Reality is a multifaceted state of affairs with a lot of moving parts that defy the panacaea of upper-class tax cuts and ‘common sense’, and yet those who hold conservative ideologies are often openly contemptuous of the nuanced view of the world that is required to make any headway or improvement.

Despite my irritation, I must confess a certain sympathy for conservatism. Not a sympathy borne of pity (considering the way in which conservative policies are decimating not only my own country but others around the world, there is no room left for pity), but one borne of understanding. The conservative impulse, in its essence, is the human tendency to grind to a halt when new challenges face us. To put that another way, it is to address new problems with the solutions that have worked before – tradition and ‘common sense’ (which, in light of this view of conservatism, is simply what we call those things which used to confound us but we have answers for now). [Read more…]