Monthly Archives: July 2012

Activism Current Events Ethics

On Forgiving the Homophobia from Christianity

These signs were displayed at Motor City Pride 2012, in June.
Apologetics?

Everyone has been glad to see these photos. It seems we are meant to be touched by this meager penance. Their new tolerant god lends flexibility to the charlatans’ bigotry. A flexibility, I must add, that has been employed before; with the geocentric theory, creationism, and nationalism. Each time, the policies logically derived from their sacred text are rescinded by a retreat from that same text.

But forgive them, they ask. Very well, let us consider what reasonable terms we can accept this forgiveness. Most Christians, for most of their history, persecuted people because of a private sexual preference. I am particularly reminded of the case of Alan Turning, who, upon being given a choice between a hormone therapy that would have caused him to grow breasts, and suicide, chose death. But how can we assure this type of thing never happens again? By first understanding why they did this in the first place, and this is because their sacred text, the Bible, very clearly lists Homosexuality as an abominable sin.

I can already hear the objections.

“God is love!”

Irrelevant, the scriptures damn sin as all but unforgivable. Anyone who thinks otherwise should read the story of Korah, or Jesus’ remarks on lukewarm water. (A phrase I particularly resent.)

“That was just the Old Testament!”

What other great moral guideline of the Old Testament was forgotten when Jesus returned? True, some minor laws that the Pharisees had extrapolated were forgotten by Jesus, for example when he allegedly worked on the Sabbath by healing someone. But the definitions of appropriate sexuality were never challenged, and why should we simply assume they have been abandoned because of Jesus’ return? Why keep the Old Testament at all if we can assume such things? If I am wrong, and there is a specific annulment of the laws against homosexuality in the Bible, I am ignorant of it. The reality is, again, proof of the corruption of the system of belief that is Christianity, and we are again incapable of seeing it for what it is. These people’s religious beliefs are immoral. They could not leave other people’s sexual habits alone, because their book plainly told them not to. Now, they abandon the book with all the usual casuistry. They’ve pulled this card before, with evolution, and with heliocentric theory, and with women’s suffrage, and with the abolitionists. But, if we convinced people to abandon the book, rather than just the unfashionable parts, how could they criticize the gay pride movement?

“I don’t think it’s a good idea for gays to be able to get married.”
“Why?”
“It will weaken marriage by weakening the definition of marriage. Without such strict terms for marriage, it loses its poignance.”
“So the sanctity of an individual’s marriage is determined by that marriage’s peers? Further, the simple admission of a possibility of a marriage outside your social group’s definition of a marriage will cause this? If that’s true, the marriage was impossibly fragile to begin with, and therefore doomed.”
“It is objectively not right. People are harmed.”
“Whom?”
“The children.”
“They are empirically not. There are many examples of high-achieving children with gay parents.”
“The people in the marriage are harmed.”
“They are consenting adults, what evidence can you put forth to justify the disregard of their personal choices?”

There isn’t any. I cannot continue this hypothetical debate because it requires an impossible standard of evidence to justify an anti-homosexual standpoint. Yet, apparently, we would prefer to retain this fabricated and ancient conglomeration of myths that is absolutely proven to be capable of justifying the use of slaves, and the interruptions of consenting adults’ personal lives.

So no, I will not forgive you, until you admit not only you were wrong, but show me you understand why you were wrong.

 

Activism Current Events Link News

Tell Obama to Pressure Indonesia to free Alexander Aan!

If you are an atheist and have ever expressed your offensive views online, you would be a criminal in Indonesia.

Such is the case for Alexander Aan, an Indonesian atheist currently serving a 2 1/2 year prison sentence for posting blasphemous statements in an atheist group on Facebook.  He also has to pay a fine amounting to about $10,000 US, and has received numerous death threats from Islamic fundamentalists calling for his head on a platter.

This outrageous case has received a fair amount of attention within the atheist community, prompting a protest outside the Indonesian embassy by the Center for Inquiry earlier this month.

Not all of Aan’s supporters here in the US could make it to New York City for the protest, but now there’s something that all of us can do: sign this petition to the White House urging President Obama to take a stand for religious freedom and tell the Indonesian government to let Aan go.

Like all “We the People” petitions on the White House website, it needs 25,000 digital signatures in order to end up on the President’s desk.  Go sign it now!  Atheism should not be a crime anywhere.

Activism General Lifestyle Opinion

The different flavors of atheism

Despite what The Oatmeal may think, this isn't every atheist's idea of a good time.

For better or for worse, some people like to categorize.  I can be one of those people at times.

PZ Myers recently posted a list of taxa that he believes describe different personalities within the atheist movement; I did something similar on my personal blog last fall, though with a slightly different focus.  PZ focused on patterns of thought, while I looked at patterns of behavior (I also marked each of mine with a card suit for symbolism).  Here’s an executive summary of both of our lists:

PZ’s Taxa:

  • Scientific AtheistKnows that there is no god due to total lack of empirical evidence for one.  Sometimes a little too arrogant.
  • Philosophical Atheist: Doesn’t believe in god because believing in one requires making unfounded assumptions.  Sometimes overly long-winded.
  • Political Atheist: Motivated to fight the political and legal battles to make the world a better place for atheists.  Sometimes makes compromises that other atheists don’t like.
  • Humanist: Altruistic do-gooder who wants to help people in the name of godlessness.  Sometimes “pragmatically fickle” and may join up with liberal churches instead of expressly atheist organizations.

My Taxa:

  • Agitating Anti-theist (spade): Sees religion as an enemy to be vanquished, and fights its advances tooth and claw.
  • Incredulous Inquirer (club): Skeptical toward religion, but wants to discuss rather than fight.
  • Mainstream Materialist (diamond): Doesn’t believe in god, stops worrying, and enjoys life.
  • Diplomatic Disbeliever (heart): Strives to form friendly alliances with open-minded religious people.

Many people who read either or both of these posts may find themselves identifying with more than one category.  They’re archetypes, and very few people strictly belong to any one of them.  Each one of us has a different story behind how we realized we were atheists, how we came to join up with other atheists in this ever-evolving movement, and where we’d like to see the movement go.

And yet I unfortunately continually see bickering among these different “kinds” of atheists, the most vitriolic of which occurs on the internet.  Atheists call one another “bullies” and “accommodationists” and accuse one another of dogmatism and “Tinkerbellism” over different approaches toward the movement.  We see nasty exchanges of ad-hominems and passive-aggressive head shaking on Twitter because one party is either too critical or not critical enough of religion for the other party’s tastes.

Don’t get me wrong; I think that atheists who speak out in the name of atheism should be willing to defend why they say, and if an atheist says or does something reprehensible then others can and should call him or her out on it.  But let’s try to keep it civil.

A diversity of perspectives and approaches toward living without religion is, in my opinion, healthy for the movement.  We need people who uncompromisingly fight for the truth, we need people who make nice with theists, and we need average citizens who aren’t full-time activists to show the general public that we do walk among them.  This movement isn’t one-size-fits-all.

Ethics Lifestyle

Vegetarian Ethics: It’s not black and white

What is an ethical amount of meat for a vegetarian to eat?

The answer seems obvious: Zero, right? I’ll argue this is incorrect. I’ll begin with the story of a chicken sandwich, the vegetarian atheist who ate it (me), and who almost felt badly enough about it to pray.

I’ve been a vegetarian for about 3 years now for ethical reasons. I want to cause as little suffering as reasonably possible. It’s the right thing to do.

Two weeks ago, Ellen Lundgren and I were on a 6-hour drive to the CFI Leadership Conference in Buffalo, NY. Around 8, we stopped for dinner. We were on a tight schedule and didn’t want to stop anywhere too time-consuming.

The only restaurant we could find that was open, nearby, and quick was Wendy’s. Wendy’s does have several non-meat items, but they are all sides or desserts. If you’re at Wendy’s, and you want the nutrition—and hunger satiation—that comes only from protein, you’re going to have to order something with meat. So I did, for the first time in several years.

I prefer chicken to beef because chickens are stupider than cows, and are physically less capable of suffering. (Similarly, I feel less bad about Caesar salads, which contain anchovies, than chicken sandwichs).

Despite my atheism, when I sat down, I had a very strong urge to pray for the chicken, though I knew it was superstitious. I think this was left over from the days when I prayed before eating—I became a vegetarian around the same time I became an atheist.

I believe it was a bit of déjà vu. Ellen thought it was funny; I decided to blog about it.

Many vegetarians, and especially vegans I think, tend to be more judgmental and dogmatic about their food. A friend once asked me if I think I’m better than she is because I’m a vegetarian. I told her yes, I do think vegetarianism is morally superior; if we’re defining “better” as “acting more ethically,” then it follows that I think I’m better. Integrity is one of the more useful measures of quality in a person. However, I don’t think this makes her a bad person, nor me a good person. My friend is great in other ways, and more ethical than me in many.

I don’t see vegetarianism as an inconvenience most of the time, not more than, for example, holding the door for someone. You learn to do it as part of living in a peaceful society. Not eating animals is the moral choice if reasonably possible—and it’s usually easy, for most people in 1st-world countries. It’s the environmentally-sound choice. Vegetables are delicious and nutritious. And you sleep better. What’s not to like?

Vegetarianism does not mean simply cutting meat from your diet. It means replacing animal sources of protein with vegetable sources of protein, like nuts & beans. In the words of Leo Tolstoy:

One can live and be healthy without killing animals for food; therefore, if he eats meat, he participates in taking animal life merely for the sake of his appetite. And to act so is immoral.

I’m not vegan—I eat eggs, dairy, etc if I know they came from ethical sources. By ethical I mean that as little unnecessary suffering was involved as reasonably possible. Although one can avoid any unnecessary suffering by never contributing to demand, I find this DOES cause unnecessary suffering—to me. It is very inconvenient, if not impossible, to forgo the use of all animal products.

Vegetarianism is not an all-or-nothing way of life. I wouldn’t ask someone to give up meat entirely, but you can certainly eat less and just replace it with other protein. On similar utilitarian grounds, I’ll eat meat when it maximizes happiness. It would’ve caused me more “suffering” to wait 4 more hours to eat something on this road-trip than it would have to eat part of a chicken that was dead long before I deliberated over whether or not to order it.

It’s also acceptable for vegetarians to eat meat on utilitarian grounds if otherwise-edible meat is going to waste, to be “enjoyed” only by bugs and microbes: I’ve no problem eating it instead. I will enjoy it much more than microbes will.

I desire to contribute to net demand for meat as little as possible. This is something we should all strive for. It’s not necessary to eat meat in order to live healthily, and it’s the most ethical choice.

Until next time,

Dave

Conferences

Center for Inquiry: CFI Student Leadership Conference 2012!

Last weekend, I attended the 2012 CFI Student Leadership Conference in Buffalo, New York with my fellow Secular Student Alliance intern, Ellen Lundgren.

I want to tell you about the talks themselves, but even more so, I want you to understand why it’s so important for student leaders to attend these conferences.

It’s about a 6-hour drive from Columbus, so we left right after work last Wednesday, and listened to lots of Fiona Apple’s newest album along the way.

The two CFI summer interns (one of whom, Tony Lakey, is actually also the president of my student group back in Missouri) were kind enough to let us stay with them the first night, and we had a lot of fun playing chess and eating veggie chik’n nuggets.

Over the following three days, I reconnected with some great people I had not seen in person since the conference last year, and others that I saw at the SSA conference last summer as well. These are some of the brightest people I have ever known, and some of the best critical thinkers. The best part is, they are also creative rule-breakers when it comes to thinking. This is especially relevant for the workshops, when we do brainstorming activities.

Late-night chess with Tony Lakey

If you’ve never been to Niagara Falls, it’s astonishing. There is something about very large things that makes you feel—well, small. It changes your perspective to look at something like that. Part of me says, “It’s water & rocks… okay…” But when you realize how quickly those water & rocks could kill you—not to anthropomorphize, but without a pause or care, and that they have been going for about 11,000 years—it makes you feel very awed. A group of us went on Thursday afternoon while everyone was trickling in for the first talks on Thursday evening.

The first of us to Niagara Falls!
The view from the observation deck.

That night, there was a welcome toast, a presentation about what exactly CFI does by Lauren Becker, a talk about the past, present, and future of CFI by the wonderful Debbie Goddard, a panel about CFI’s history, and Jessica Ahlquist also gave her talk. You can see the full schedule here.

I’m actually not going to talk much more about the talks themselves. The videos will be online soon, as I understand it, and I’m going to leave that to other bloggers. I want you to understand what’s so important about actually attending these conferences in person.

The friends I have made by physically attending the CFI conferences last year (my first) and this year are some of the most important and close people in my life, even though for many of them, I have only seen them in person once or twice. If you have ever been on a retreat or to summer camp or anything like that, you know what I mean. Spending 84 hours straight without someone—sharing your meals, living with them, hanging out at night—is going to make you close. In fact, for the last night, many of us didn’t even bother sleeping, since our sleep schedules were so backwards by then. Half the fun of conferences is staying up half (or all) night, talking about your backgrounds, learning what other groups are doing, getting to know each other, but more just getting to that place of understanding that there are other atheists just like you. It may not feel like we’re the majority, and in many places, we’re not. But for our generation, roughly 1/3 of people say it is false that they never doubt the existence of a god. These figures are growing rapidly, and with a passion. It’s becoming harder and harder for young people to believe whatever their parents tell them, because young people are no longer being brought up in isolation from the rest of the world, thanks to things like Wikipedia, Reddit, Facebook, even blogs like this one.

I waited a year to come out of the closet as an atheist because I didn’t know anyone else who was openly an atheist. I was dumbstruck when I first met someone who had no problem saying the word. In her case, she was not an activist about it; she was more what I’d call an apatheist, or a pragmatic atheist. But that moment was life-changing for me: Knowing that it was possible to call oneself an atheist, without feeling ashamed, was inspiring.

And that is how I feel about attending conferences. An entire audience full of people who feel that way, learning how to run their student groups more efficiently and effectively, and getting to know each other. One of the people I’d consider among my best friends, Ellen (the founder of this blog), is someone whom I met at the CFI conference last year, for example. Her work with her group at Grand Valley State University has been inspiring to my group at Mizzou, as well. And now we are interning together for the Secular Student Alliance, which is a dream come true for both of us. The best part is, there are literally dozens of people I could have used as examples in this paragraph of great friends I have made, who are very dear to me. I felt so very lonely for so long as a closeted atheist, and it is a feeling I do not feel anymore. Maybe this is revealing of what a bad writer I am ;) but I can’t tell you in words how grateful of my circumstances I am to be freed of that. Life is better now!

If you are a student and an atheist, and you have never attended a student leadership conference, you simply MUST do so. Today (Sunday) is the last chance to register for the Secular Student Alliance annual leadership conference on July 6-8 in Columbus, OH. Please, please register! You will be so glad you attended, I can’t even tell you. And if that’s not enough for you, you can also attend Skepticon 5, the largest free conference ever, in Springfield, Missouri on November 9-11.

I’m just going to wrap this up with some more pictures from Buffalo, because I took a lot, and I think they can say it better than I can. I hope you all have a wonderful weekend!

Jessica Ahlquist's birthday cake!
Far right: SASHA president Tony Lakey one of the panel discussions
Heathen books!
Debbie Goddard serenades us in the evening
Atheist students learn how to be atheist student leaders
Your author with the founder of Skeptic Freethought, Ellen Lundgren
L-R: Aaron Underwood (SASHA Director of Events), Damon Fowler, Tony Lakey (SASHA President), Ellen Lundgren, and I (taking photo) stayed up all night to watch the sunrise.

And last but not least, one of my favorite photos from the weekend…

Light painting "CFI" with glow-sticks!

See you at the SSA conference next weekend, and at CFI next year!