Disjointed musings from the sidelines of atheism’s internal culture wars

“The starting-point of critical elaboration is the consciousness of what one really is and is ‘knowing thyself’ as a product of the historical processes to date, which has deposited in you an infinity of traces, without leaving an inventory. [T]herefore, it is imperative at the outset to compile such an inventory.

– Antonio Gramsci

I can’t decide if my presence on this network makes me part of any kind of movement. I liked reading things on FTB. I asked if I could blog here. They said yes. I’ve written only a bit about religion/atheism and, when doing so, it has mostly been about the lulz involved with Christianity, which is ever a rich vein to mine.

For most of my life, I can’t say that I’ve ever felt like I’ve belonged to any group or movement. I view this as a consequence of my inherent discomfort of being around large amounts of people. For atheism in particular, I’ve never been to a convention, never been part of a group, and have never been one to seek debate or argue publicly about it on social media. At most, I’ve surrounded myself with friends who happen to be irreligious, none of whom are in any way part of a larger movement.

I wouldn’t even say I ever had a “new atheist phase,” at least in the pejorative sense. In the mid 2000’s I read Dawkins and Harris. They were fine – at least most of The God Delusion and the first and last parts of The End of Faith. I had already been agnostic since the late 90’s, and I was receptive to their critiques of religion. Nevertheless, I had long known about much of what they wrote, though their abilities to provide cogent critiques far surpassed my own. But it was nothing earth shattering to me – by the time I read them I had long considered religion to be a metaphorical house of cards which is easily dispersed with the merest breeze.

It was nice and interesting that atheism became more prominent during that time-period. But, again, at no point did I ever consider myself to be a New Atheist, a term I associated with a particularly arrogant and in-your-face brand of atheism. That was never my thing – I’ve always skewed more towards self-loathing than arrogance, which I think made me a bit less susceptible to becoming an anti-religious evangelist. To me religion was always personal, and I had no interest in persuading others to adopt my point of view. However, I’ve never really had a problem outing myself as an atheist.

***

Backing up a bit – before the rise of the New Atheists, I rejected the religion in which I was brought up. In rejecting Catholicism and their God, a process commenced where I questioned other powerful things – after all, if the most powerful entity imaginable was little more than a boring fairytale in a boring book, what else was utter bullshit?

To me, it followed that other powerful ideas and entities were worthy of skepticism. Culture, nation-states, capitalism, civilization – all were deserving of scrutiny. And all have in common the fact that, like all the gods ever hypothesized, they are socially constructed and therefore eminently fallible, both in theory and practice. These considerations led to my belief that our world is one of unequal access to opportunities to both meet basic needs and flourish. With every person confined to one life – and no paradisiacal afterlife waiting for us upon death – it is unconscionable that so many, through little to no fault of their own, have numoerous odds stacked against them to merely exist, much less flourish. I think this best describes the base of my worldview from which the rest of my beliefs/opinions flow. I credit atheism with playing a foundational role in this.

Of course, many object to this line of thinking. To them, how “good” one’s life is is a result of the consequences of their actions – success or failure is relatively independent of social and environmental circumstances. This provides justification for systemic disadvantages (if they are even recognized at all) while at the same time allowing for self-congratulation for whatever success one achieves. For such people that are nonbelievers, their non-belief is grafted onto their pre-existing, or developing biases. Here, atheism is weaponized to war against and belittle opponents, to reinforce existing hierarchies, and to blame the unfortunate for their struggles – all under the guise of their superior reasoning and logic which spreads from their disavowal of non-natural phenomena.

I guess I just don’t fully get atheists who prostrate themselves to the powerful. They have cast aside deities who would be content to torture them for eternity, but exhibit little interest in scrutinizing earthly authorities and hierarchies. The broad reason is easy to see. Many of them have, or desperately want power and privilege. It is then in their self-interest not to dig too deep into how various distinct and overlapping power structures might reify, systemize and reproduce oppression – it’s much easier to place responsibility squarely on the shoulder of those that struggle within these power structures.

I understand selfishness. I understand an inability or unwillingness to cultivate empathy for the less fortunate. But I scorn both – especially when they’re used in the service of upholding the status quo under which they benefit.

***

Of course, I don’t expect everyone to come to the same conclusions as I. The intellectual path one takes using atheism as a starting point can lead to many ends. And much of the time, one’s starting point isn’t necessarily even atheism-adjacent. But it’s pretty depressing that the popularity of reactionary atheism appears to be so ascendant.

I often wonder what the neutral observer thinks of when they think of atheism. With my family and coworkers in mind, I would bet a lot of money that precisely none of them have ever heard of Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, or Mythcon (funny, since the latter occurs in the state in which I reside). And I think that generally holds true among the general populace. At a shopping mall, sporting event, or fast food restaurant, most know nothing of the battle for the soul of atheism.

Perhaps they know Neil deGrasse Tyson or Bill Nye, though I’m not sure how much nonbelief is associated with them. Who they might know, though, are outspoken, shitty atheists like Bill Maher and Ricky Gervais. The thought of those two coming to the front of the average person’s mind when the term atheist is brought up makes me cringe.

***

I see religion as one of the “traces” described by Gramsci that is deposited into the recesses of our psyches. Its size and intensity necessarily varies from person to person, family to family, and culture to culture, but it is only one of the infinity. While atheists of all stripes excise religion’s metaphysical components, there are varying amounts of its framework left behind. These shards can all too easily be reorganized into a toxic brew of human supremacy, bigotry of all flavors, slavish obedience to authority, and magical thinking (not that religion is necessarily the origin of any of these).

Again, it’s not that I think everyone should think like me or arrive to the same conclusions as I, but I don’t think the SQW/Alt-right atheists really put in the work to adequately examine their inventory. Or, if I’m being more charitable than I should be, I suppose they do and I guess I just don’t agree with the conclusions that justify their beliefs.

I only have so much time in this world. With an ocean of information that is continuously increasing exponentially, it would be impossible to examine each and every point of view on atheism or any topic for that matter – even those that touch on issues I care about. I recoil at adding Fox News, or Info Wars, or Breitbart to my daily information consumption. The thought of slogging through Enlightenment Now makes me ill. I look at Twitter wars and am unable to comprehend how arguing on it is in any way worthy of time – and marvel at how extraordinarily complicated topics can be argued 280 characters at a time.

Or, restricting this solely to the Atheism Wars. Am I going to spend hours watching the various garbage YouTubers? Or listening to Sam Harris’s podcast? The answer is no, but it is a conclusion I’ve reached because of desire. I think about the ills of residing in my own echo chamber, but am too selfish to really venture too far outside it. For justification, I rationalize that most of the media I consume contains written or unwritten ideas that I object to – but the specific items listed in this and the prior paragraph are too much.

Life’s too fucking short and I don’t wish to waste large chunks of it on the Sisyphean task of confronting ideas I’ve long since decided are misguided, wrong or abhorrent (at least in terms of religion and the reactionary wing of atheism – there are, of course, other things I’m more interested in thinking and writing about ad nauseum). But such is the world we live in where it is apparently still necessary to have discussions about things like race science, Confederate monuments, and whether or not trans people should be able to live how they wish (the answers are, respectively: it’s bad and wrong, tear them down, and of course).

All of which brings me back to my presence here. I’m glad the fine folks at FtB put in so much time and effort combating the rot in atheism. It is a large reason I’ve been a longtime reader. But I’m admittedly too selfish to join in and will most likely continue to leave the heavy lifting to others. I don’t know to what extent it matters, but I think atheism is a good enough thing (due to the omnipresence of religion and its ill effects) that the task of constantly flushing the turds down the toilet is eminently admirable and worthwhile.

Goddamnit Morrissey

I had a difficult time coming up with a name for my blog. I’m not very creative, so I picked a song by an artist I adored – Morrissey. And Morrissey is, well, problematic. I’m not going to rehash all of the questionable opinions he’s vomited out over the years. The idea for this post actually came from the last time he said something terrible but, like dozens of other posts I’ve began and left idle, I never finished it. For that instance, he had some thoughts on Kevin Spacey and #metoo:

Morrissey says that the whole thing has become “a play,” and that the definition of sexual harassment has become so broad that “every person on this planet is guilty.” Specifically, he says that the allegations against Kevin Spacey are “ridiculous,” saying that if he was 26 and alone in a bedroom with a 14-year-old boy, then the boys should’ve known what was going to happen. “When you are in somebody’s bedroom,” he says, “you have to be aware of where that can lead to.” Because of that, he thinks Spacey has been “unnecessarily attacked.”

https://www.thepoke.co.uk/2017/05/26/there-are-some-bad-people-on-the-right/

This was on the heels of his new garbage album. Coupled with his last garbage album, he hasn’t made good music in almost a decade. Yet he still sells out everywhere he plays and has an extremely devoted fanbase. This gives him a modicum of mainstream relevancy so, unfortunately, microphones keep being shoved in his face. Behold the most recent example:

“As far as racism goes, the modern loony left seem to forget that Hitler was leftwing,” he says now. “When someone calls you racist, what they are saying is: hmm, you actually have a point, and I don’t know how to answer it, so perhaps if I distract you by calling you a bigot we’ll both forget how enlightened your comment was.”

Yes, people tend to forget that Hitler was leftwing – I mean, c’mon people, Socialism is in the freaking name of his ideology! Also, when I call someone a racist, deep down I think that they’re right. Moreover, it masks the fact that I have no way of responding to the airtight logic so masterfully deployed by those I unjustifiably call bigots. Fuck.

Anyways, my blog name is bad. Fortunately for me, most people probably don’t even know it refers to a Morrissey song. I suppose I could change it, but the only thing I came up with is “Godless Soy Boy.” A Google search for it in quotes yields no hits, but it’s not a great name. Then again, I also don’t think it’s terrible. I’ll likely never decide one way or the other, and eventually stop thinking about it. And so the I Have Forgiven Jesus #brand will live on.

Drunk for the first time

I’m 36 years old. Until a few months ago I had never been drunk. In the mid-90’s I became aware of straight edge as part of my growing love of punk and hardcore music. For those unaware, it was a term coined by Ian Mackaye (of Minor Threat and Fugazi) to denote his abstention from drugs and alcohol, and it grew in popularity enough to become a thing. I won’t dwell on the psychology of why this was appealing to me except to say that I legitimately had no interest in drugs or alcohol for most of my life. That not doing them was something connected to music I loved only reinforced that noninterest. It’s been a little over a decade since I ended my involvement in that particular scene and while I kind of stopped thinking of myself as straight edge, I continued to not partake.

In 2016, my wife and I were in Latvia. At a chocolate bar, a very cool thing that should be everywhere, we learned about the country’s traditional drink, Balsam. It sounded really cool and I decided “fuck it, I want to try this.” So I did. At first, I tasted what I thought were some of the ingredients that were described, but it was followed by what I can best describe as pure fire. Or maybe it was the reverse of that – I can’t seem to remember. It was pretty good. However, it was only a sip – I didn’t want to lose my wits in a place I’d never been.

Since then, I’ve tried various things, but none I’ve really cared for. Wine is fine, but I can barely drink more than a glass. I like it with dinner primarily because it limits my liquid intake in the hours before bedtime (otherwise I drink a ton of water with meals, which leads to obvious results). Beer is pretty gross, although I’ve not hated a few kinds. Mixed drinks are almost all terrible. I kind of like whiskey, but not enough to actually buy any – shit’s way too expensive. Overall, I’m fairly certain I’ve passed the point in life where one is able to get over bad tastes in order to achieve the goal of getting drunk. Most, it seems, are able to get over it, the switch is flipped, and they develop a very real affinity for it. It’s not likely that’ll ever happen with me.

By last November, I still had never had enough alcohol to actually be drunk. A few times I’ve felt hot in the face, and that things were slower than normal. I wouldn’t classify it as enjoyable, though one time with friends it was kind of okay. But finally, it happened. My wife and I were visiting her parents in New Orleans, and my father-in-law insisted on getting me drinks while out in the French Quarter. He was paying so I was like sure whatever.

I eventually became drunk (on Makers Mark whiskey if you’re curious). It was… weird.  I was constantly evaluating my brain-state and preoccupied with what was happening and whether or not I’d remember what happened that night. While walking, I was very focused on not falling, and frequently tried to walk in a straight line – I was pretty good at it and was proud of myself. More than a few times I thought “How the hell can anyone DRIVE like this?” I still think this. Drunk driving doesn’t seem like it’s a good idea IMO.

When we got back to where we were staying I threw myself on the couch and incessantly told my father in law that “We need to get wings!” We did and they were great. Though still, as I am wont to do on the few occasions I eat meat, I felt shitty for eating animals that lived brutal, terrible lives. I’m glad alcohol didn’t completely dull this sense.

Overall, it was much more enjoyable back at the AirBnB, rather than being out. I was more relaxed. Fortunately, I apparently drank the “right” way (through no fault of my own): I woke up without a hangover.

(I should note that my wife said I was a bit more weird and quiet than normal. Sounds about right.)

I can kind of, but not totally understand the appeal after having this experience (I’ve always understood on an intellectual level). As I noted, perhaps there’s an optimal time for introduction to alcohol and I’ve missed it. Maybe if in my younger days I sat around crushing beers with my bros, I would get it. Or maybe I’m just not wired this way: I greatly dislike not being in control of myself. Also, while drunk, I had to urinate roughly a billion times which really sucked.

My father-in-law has asked a few times since if I’m drinking more now. And the answer is no. Partially because I’m cheap and don’t view it as a worthy expenditure. But mostly it’s because when I buy something to drink, it’s going to be because I like the taste. Most of the time I’ll take a good soda over any kind of alcohol. Those other times will likely not result in me drinking enough to get drunk.

This is a weird blog to write, and I’ve only done so because I think it’s a bit unusual that one waits so long to do something that most people have done before the end of their 20’s. Rereading this, I’m not sure it’s very interesting. However, after I do magic mushrooms, the subsequent blog will blow all your fucking minds [1].

[1] Just kidding about the second part of that sentence. No one needs to read about some dipshit doing psychedelics. Unless, of course, I find God and need to write one more post about leaving this atheist network.