Category Archives: Lifestyle

Lifestyle Opinion

Despite (Or to Spite?) You Moderates: Against Tolerance

I am a rather intolerant person and I think you should be too. Unfortunately, we’ve created a society in which I can’t say that, without qualification, and retain a serious audience. So allow to explain what I’m not saying. I do not think schools should be segregated, that the holocaust was exaggerated, or that marriage is legally different for homosexual couples. Additionally; I do not think violence is acceptable in almost any society, and I do think we should listen, to the best of our abilities, to any opinion.* Yet I still think the implied axiom of toleration is the slow death of any intellectual movement, especially in one as progressive as secularism.

What does toleration mean? It seems to demand that we accept the existence of things we hate, regardless of our reasons for hating it. The toleration I refer to is the kind of thing defended by people saying “well that’s your opinion.” Not only does it add nothing to any conversation I’ve ever had, it also suggests that we should accept an opinion’s existence simply because it is an opinion. Such statements ignore the obvious truth that opinions shape decisions. Jim Jones could never have convinced anyone to move with him to Guyana if opinions had no effect on decisions. Since it is something unstated, yet typically accepted, we jump to the obvious supporting factors: it means not being racist, homophobic, or what have you.

 But then how should we respond to a member of the Westboro Baptist Church? By tolerating their opinions? Insisting that we respect their hideous views? Naturally not, we should exercise our free speech to its fullest extent, and show all those who may be in doubt how destructive and pernicious these liars really are. This is justifiable intolerance. If we were to alter the object of our verbal attacks from these charlatan chaplains to, for example, black people, we would again be charged with intolerance. But now it would be unjustifiable. The question of tolerance is meaningless, the arguments behind the intolerance are the only salient details, for it is impossible to create a system of tolerance that both allows us to speak freely and critically while suppressing morally poor sentiments.

Therefore we should not tolerate religion. We should employ our free speech to the best of our abilities against it. In the very least, religion motivates people to think about reality fallaciously, and that alone is enough reason to challenge it. Whatever comfort it provides does not justify the lives lost and bunk believed. When we do tolerate religion we challenge the foundation on which all of secularism rests. We make secularism just another alternative on a long list of faiths, rather than the only rational conclusion one can come to after understanding just a few of the faiths. This is because if all of these views are above mockery and questioning, then we imply that they all have, at some level, a semblance of respectability and validity. But this is ridiculous, if we can’t laugh at those who believe the world is flat, what belief can we laugh at?

Some will object to my use of “tolerance”. They will, doubtless, insist that tolerance does not mean we must respect all opinions, only that we will not do violence on those who hold them. Ecclesiastes insists that there is a time and place for everything and I tend to agree. There is a time and place for toleration; for the respect of the disgusting. But it is not in the discussions of the skeptical. We must question everything, and we should not allow anything to go unscrutinized because of anyone’s insistence on tolerance.


* Once.

Ethics Humor Lifestyle

How Not to be a Bad Atheist

In this great skeptical movement of ours we have had the opportunity to grow complacent. Of course, being the enlightened intellectuals that we are, we have not squandered this opportunity. Here are some problems I have with public skeptics I’ve watched.

1. Regarding Logical Fallacies

So you took a Logic class and you are now entitled to win arguments, I understand. But the point of those informal fallacies you learned was not to be able to relate them in the middle of a conversation and expect your opponent to understand your jargon. Explain to them in the midst of your argument with a counterexample, do not simply accuse them. The ultimate fallacy is strange idea that the first one to mention fallacy wins the argument. For example, if someone calls you an asshole, which if you’re like me is not at all a rare occurrence, do not say “Hah! That, my mere plebeian opponent, is an Ad Hominem informal fallacy. Had you been considerate enough to memorize that section of our textbook, you would be qualified to continue this conversation, but seeing as you are unfit, I will have to claim this verbal challenge for myself!” Instead, agree with them as you are, in fact, an asshole! But then go on to say “but I don’t know what that has to do with the efficacy of duct tape in improving survival rates of patients with gunshot wounds in the neck!” In doing so you explain to the commoner what an Ad Hominem is, without risking associating yourself with those amateurish logicians who apply their informal fallacy education as if it was a weapon.

2. Regarding Gender

So you’ve come out of the metaphorical closet of atheism and stepped into the literal light of day. Suddenly a new creature appears, a female who dares speak her mind in public! Worse yet, you’re attracted to her! Now, before you criticise feminism with your newfound skeptic methods in order to impress her, consider the facts for yourself, on your own time. Otherwise you risk making unintentionally controversial statements. How can you explain your problems with the theory of Patriarchy if your audience is busy criticizing your use of pronouns?! But there is another audience I’d like to address on this matter. Atheist feminists. Take it easy on us. Many of us are trying not to be sexist, and agree with many of the sentiments of feminism. Being a part of a disenfranchised group does not put you above criticism. The most common manifestation of this silly glorification of disenfranchisement occurs with the phrase “as a…”. For example: “as a woman, I think I better understand the irreparable damage an immature atheist can cause to my gender, and thus conclude that anyone who makes such blunders must be burned on a suitably phallic stake.” Though I would applaud your sense of irony, I would remind you that your argument from authority is everyone’s least favorite valid form. Because I said so.

3. Regarding Defining Atheism

Atheists are people who do not believe in God. That’s it. Don’t try to ascribe additional progressive goals to them. It is possible to be a sexist atheist. Don’t go around arguing what atheists should or shouldn’t do, by arrogantly titling your blog posts things like “How to be a Good Atheist” or presumptuously assuming your atheist audience will be interested in your advice about relating to the minority of public atheists. Even though atheism can and should serve as a platform for additional progressive discussion, we should not try to insist anything but disbelief should be a part of “real atheism.” Thanks for your time.

-Luke Smithems

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

Activism Ethics Lifestyle Opinion

Why I’m a Male Feminist (And Why Our Movement Needs More of Us)

“Feminist” is a polarizing word.  You’ll generally see it used in one of two ways: as self-identification by people who consider themselves feminists, and as a pejorative by people who do not.

It’s a word with an ugly connotation in many people’s minds, not unlike the word “atheist”; people hear the “-ist” suffix and infer an ideology that seeks feminine supremacy rather than gender equality, just as many see atheism as a rebellious denial of God rather than an affirmative acceptance of a godless universe.

To be sure, there are differing opinions among those who consider themselves feminists regarding what it means to be a feminist. There are disagreements about its implications regarding sexuality, marriage, reproductive rights, and parenting. There are disputes about what reforms are needed in modernized Western societies compared to developing nations.  There are debates about who gets to call themselves feminists, particularly about whether this label can apply to men.

Can men be feminists?

I call myself a feminist because I agree with the movement’s most basic tenet: women are people. I feel that throughout human history and in the status quo today, women have been and are either (a) regarded as lesser beings than men, or (b) propped up on a pedestal from which they are not permitted to descend, and often paradoxically both at the same time. I see this as wrong and would like to do my part to correct it.

As such, supporting fair treatment across gender lines means proactively questioning and reforming the way we (both men and women) think about women. For this reason I will use the word “feminist” and not try to make up some new, gender-neutral term for supporting gender equality.

Hoping that I don't sound like this.

I know that there are hardcore feminists out there who object to men calling themselves feminists. I understand their reasons for feeling that way (for example, men presumptuously thinking they can speak on behalf of feminism, men dominating discussions on feminism, and then there’s this guy).

I still feel that I should use the label, as it helps to make feminism less taboo, less scary to people who claim they oppose feminism without understanding what it means. An increase in the number of visible male feminists (or “pro-feminists” or “allies” if you prefer) will increase dialogue among men about their treatment of women, and increase the number of men who stop to think “Y’know, maybe I am being sexist without realizing it. I should reexamine my attitudes about gender roles.”

Being visible among skeptics, or Wearing it proudly

At the SSA conference last month, I chose to wear my bright green “THIS IS WHAT A FEMINIST LOOKS LIKE” t-shirt, bought years ago from a fundraiser for a battered women’s shelter.

I don't always wear t-shirts with slogans on them, but when I do I support equal treatment of women.

I’ll admit that I knew I wasn’t going out on a limb with this: I knew that there were many feminists among the population of young atheists and agnostics. It got positive reactions from feminist atheist bloggers Jen McCreight and Greta Christina, and it turned out there were even a few other male feminists there as well.

In proclaiming myself as a feminist, just as happened when I proclaimed myself an atheist, I am bound to make both friends (not all of whom I’d like to call “friend”) and enemies (some of whom I have no quarrel with) based solely on the label.

Case in point: one of the Marxist activists present at the conference seemed to assume I’d be sympathetic to her group’s ideology based on my self-identification as a feminist. I was not.

I’m not aware of any animosity toward me regarding the shirt (I’ve experienced such from male acquaintances in the past), but I have to wonder if it frightened anyone away. I would certainly hope not.

The bottom line

I will echo the sentiments of atheists who have found the AAFHSS community to have a detectable sexism problem, if based solely on what I’ve read in the blogosphere (I personally heard no such comments at the SSA conference).  I do suspect, however, that many groups and social movements have the same problem, if not a more deeply embedded one; the difference is that there are outspoken feminists in the secular movement who recognize sexism when it rears its ugly head and call people out on it.

I also will ask that any men who feel threatened by feminism take a serious second look at their attitudes toward women.  Are you afraid of becoming a second class citizen, or are you afraid of losing special privileges you’ve become accustomed to?  Are you afraid that values associated with your gender will someday no longer be the default?

I won’t tell other skeptics and freethinkers that they should get behind a particular ideology, but I will ask them to consider what they do believe about sex and gender and examine the evidence on which they base their views (even feminists should do this – any idea worth believing is worth scrutinizing).  You may find that you hold biases you weren’t aware of.

Lifestyle Religion

Allow myself to introduce… myself.

Hello all!

You don’t know me; my name is Dave Muscato, I’m an atheist, and I’m one of the new writers for Skeptic Freethought.

First off, I want to thank Ellen and the other writers for giving me the chance to contribute here.

Let’s get to it: I’ve been racking my brain for a few days trying to think of a great topic for my first post, and I finally decided that the most appropriate topic would be… an introduction. I think that if I’m going to write for you, it’s only appropriate that you know where I’m coming from and why you should bother reading what I contribute.

So, this is ol’ atheist me:

Just kidding, of course. There are some atheists who make that face, but I’m not one of them. Actually, I’m a vegetarian, I have two kittens, I love to read, and I play classical guitar music and jazz bass. I like yoga, running, hiking, biking, road trips, ancient languages, and hugs. I’m a student, a feminist, and an LGBTQ ally & activist. I do fundraising consulting for non-profits, and I volunteer at a local animal shelter.

Actually me

I’d like you to think of me as your neighbor, you know, the guy who lives in the apartment down the hall and dog-sits when you go away for the weekend. If you see me while you’re out & about, say hi!

I recently wrote an article on my own group’s blog with ideas to help other atheist group leaders. In it, I stressed the importance of a getting personal during and outside of meetings, of opening up to each other and bonding as friends. I’m vice-president of my school’s atheist group, and I also study anthropology – the study of people. One area in which the atheist community simply does not compete with religion is… well, community. If you guys are anything like me, we spend a lot of time looking at cartoons, watching YouTube videos, and reading science books & journals. This is all great; we should strive to expand our knowledge and amuse ourselves. But something is missing.

Just a few short years ago, I was a professional Christian praise & worship musician. I breathed Christ Jesus. I prayed regularly, I studied my Bible, I lead others in worship. I truly believed that laying on hands had healing power. I worried about the souls of my deist parents and my two apathetic brothers. I became obsessed with the Bible, which I knew was God’s Word, and I studied it intensively.

I’ll save my “deconversion testimony” for a future article, but when I started to open my eyes to atheism, I didn’t leave the church right away. In fact, I kept my atheism to myself and continued as a professional P&W musician, leading others in worship, participating in small groups, and performing for an entire year.

I did this because there is more than one reason people go to church, and the “other” reason was strong enough to keep me going, despite the obvious flaws in the rest of it. As I wrote in the article linked above, aside from getting (ultimately incorrect) answers to The Big Questions, people go to church because they want fellowship. It’s a foundational part of being human, and as social animals, we must embrace this. During that year, I was no longer impressed with my pastor’s ideas about the origin of the universe, the meaning of life, what constitutes moral behavior, or what happens to us after we die, but I did – still do – love the music, the sympathetic ears, the encouragement, and the feeling of being among friends.

As an out-of-the-closet atheist and now group officer, although it’s not part of my official charter, I consider it my duty to be available as a resource for other skeptics, especially those still on the fence or still in the closet. Not just for information about evolution, secular ethics, science, and skepticism in general, but as a friend, someone who wants to listen, someone who wants to help them free themselves from the clutches of delusion and welcome them to the real world.

A few people from my group at Skepticon last year :)

If you are out of the closet, I encourage you to make an effort to reach out to people you know. Invite them to your group meetings. Invite them to have coffee with you one-on-one. Invite them to the bar with you and your friends, and don’t talk about religion at all. Invite them to lectures and skeptic’s conferences. If you have friends or know people who are religious, make them a deal: You’ll go with them to church, if they’ll come with you to your skeptics’ group meeting. (It nearly goes without saying that if you’re not already part of a local skeptics’ group, join or start one!). If you need help finding a local group, please let me know and I’ll help you locate one. If you have never been to a skeptics’ conference, find one near you and go!

I look forward to hearing from you all. Have a wonderful week, and take care!

Dave :)