Tag Archives: opinion

Ethics Opinion

The Defense of Freedom of Speech: A Summary.



In general, we have as natural a right to make use of our pens as of our tongue, at our peril, risk, and hazard. I know many books which have bored their readers, but I know of none which has done real evil. Theologians, or pretended politicians, cry: “Religion is destroyed, the government is lost, if you print certain truths or certain paradoxes. Never dare to think , till you have asked permission from a monk or a clerk (Voltaire, 1977).


Though I risk comparing my wit to Voltaire’s, I must expand his point in this final essay. Those words which are not controversial, do not need to be defended. It is the extremists like us who need to defend our minority rights.

Have no doubt that we are extremists. We will be extremists until atheists aren’t considered a minority. I’ve heard frequently, of late, that change comes from the moderate. I find this to be a pernicious lie. The moderates among the abolitionists proposed a compromise on slavery; we’ll just send those english speaking, darker colored Americans back to Africa where we took them from. Would anyone like to defend their viewpoint? How much more to we agree with the extremists who argued that not only should slavery be abolished, but that blacks were are equals? Extremists like John Brown argued not only this, but acted on it as well. He sought to give black Americans arms, so that they might defend themselves like humans, rather than ineffectively petition their rights for them, as if they were children.

Another of the moderate’s brilliant ideas was to contains slavery, rather than end it outright. This includes the very first of many compromises on the subject: that 3/5ths bit of which you may have heard. To quote another master on the subject of indefinite compromise:

Until 1850, perhaps, the “peculiar institution” of slavery might have had a chance of perpetuating itself indefinitely by compromise. But the exorbitance and arrogance of “the slave power” forbade this accommodation. Not content with preserving their own domain in its southeastern redoubt, the future Confederates insisted on extending their chattel system into new territories, and on implicating the entire Union in their system (Hitchens, 2012).


Yet the profiteering racists were not the only extremists to prompt chance. John Brown was tired of the abolitionist’s snail-pace. He remarked that “[t]hese men are all talk. What we need is action—action” (Rhodes, 1892). His actions, though doomed, instilled a nervousness in the South that ended the fruitless moderation. There can be no doubt that the South sought to silence him.

No, The Innocence of Muslims is not an abolitionist masterpiece, but it is controversial, which makes it the front line fight -and the only fight- in the freedom of speech. We must always endeavor to separate in our minds the right to say something, and agreeing with what’s said. A work of fiction does only as much harm as our over-reactions to it allow. The work itself is quite tame.

Dissenters need their rights, and by their nature, they will be minority rights. That means, unpopular rights. I suspect all those who tell me change comes from the moderates, because that seems to be the easy way out. They may as well say: “We don’t have to be controversial, we can agree our way to justice.” Moderation is mediocrity for everyone but the politicians. Leave it to those who’ve already sold their souls, and speak your closest approximation of the truth regardless of what people will think of you. You can know, at least, that I will do my best to defend your right to say it.



Hitchens, Christopher (2013). Arguably: Essays (29). New York, NY: Twelve

Rhodes, James Fork (1892). History of the United States from the Compromise of 1850 (385). Cambridge, MA: Harper & Brothers.

Voltaire, Francois (1977). The Philosophical Dictionary. (Peter Gay, Trans.) New York, NY: Penguin Group. (Original work published 1764)


Activism Current Events Ethics Opinion

Against Kate Middleton et al

from: http://pandawhale.com/post/10555/my-penis-works-celebrate-peasants

Kate Middleton’s predictable but nonetheless depressing rise to fame only adds insult to the great injury that is pseudo-monarchy. Almost as inexplicable as the stupidity of the American two-party system, but surely stupider, is the United Kingdom’s love affair with a particular rich family who is openly paid to be rich. She mocks us with her trivial celebrations, and we proles relish the opportunity to worship her. Now, she has gone and done the most typical possible thing a human can do: she has reproduced. And to continue this most excellent resistance to millions of years of evolution her face again is exploding all through the intertubes. As if the pretentious, superfluous, and ostentatious display of unearned wealth that was her wedding wasn’t enough.

Middleton’s new royal estate is publicly funded, and worse yet, publicly honored. The royal family serves no real purpose for the United Kingdom’s government, and certainly not one proportional to the honors “Her Majesties’” government bestows upon it. I am in no way the first to have pointed this out either. It’s perfectly obvious to anyone standing beyond the fool’s haze of tradition that the best possible government does not include a facade of tyranny.

Marx called religion the opiate of the people. And we, as skeptics, have already stepped back from tradition and recognized faith’s grim role. I suggest that we again make use of this capability when considering the royal family, however pretty and polite they may appear. Giving the people their opiates in the form of a skeuomorphic government has numerous consequences; not the least of which is glorifying a decrepit regime of servility. What bothers me most is, every moment that the international conversation is about these useless figureheads is a moment the meaningful conversations are neglected for the sake of inane babble.

For example, the title of this article by Jane Hamilton is Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton boosts UK’s economy.* What Hamilton of course means, as is more clear in the article, as that demand for specific fashion items has risen dramatically because of our obsession with the young Duchess. That is not at all the same thing as boosting an economy. The world’s resources were redistributed to imitate Middleton, she did not create new resources, the economy was not “boosted”, except for the savings she doubtlessly annihilated.

The only rational response, then, is to not only endeavor to truly end the reign, regardless of how ineffectual it is, of the English tyrants. Doing this in the state is not enough, but removing them from the discussions of the interesting is necessary as well. Why should we waste any more of humanities’ precious and scarce resources on the pompous symbols of a darker time?

 *Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton boosts UK’s economy by Jane Hamilton, (1/10/2012, The Sun) <http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/news/4049338/.html>

Activism Current Events Ethics

On Forgiving the Homophobia from Christianity

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

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.”
“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.”
“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.


Opinion Religion Science

Atheism, Mental Illness, and Coping

I want to preface this piece a little bit. I originally wrote it several months ago, when the storm of blogging about mental illness was just getting started among the popular atheist community bloggers, as an argument for why Skepticism should pick up mental illness as a talking point. We’ve seen Jen McCreight and Greta Christina come out and discuss mental illness, JT Eberhard give a tearjerker talk at Skepticon IV, and many others come out to our community (including your own Ellen Lundgren). So while I may have missed the boat a little bit, it is never too late to discuss something which afflicts a very significant portion of the population, claiming many of those lives as well.

I don’t suffer from mental illness, but I’ve become intimately acquainted with it in many folks whom I love and care for, and they deserve my help and support. So, color me an advocate.

Time and time again, when dealing with socially defined taboos – and the groups of people directly affected by them – we see that closets with closed doors leave the isolated in the dark. And in combating this, we’ve seen various movements towards yanking these closet doors wide open within the skeptic & atheist, LGBTQ, and mental health communities. As is often discussed (here by Greta Christina), the relationships between and, albeit partial, intertwinement of the LGBTQ and atheist movements have offered both groups new and effective coping mechanisms. Atheists have learned how to come out of their closets and into the streets in droves, and the LGBTQ community has been offered more prominent humanistic perspectives and secular reasoning to add to their, and everyone’s, arsenal for why people with non-heteronormative sexualities deserve to be treated as humans. Sufferers of mental illness deserve this same support network, and it’s time for secularism to help blow the doors off the closet of neurochemical imbalances.

Psychological studies have shown that, in later life, depression and psychological decline can be abated by the presence of religious influence1. In their review, “Religion and depression in later life,” Braam et al. found that late-life religiousness mostly negatively correlates with depressive symptoms, and the association is more pronounced in elderly Americans in poor health. Further, they outline four dimensions of religiousness which may affect psychological states, to varying degrees: cognitive – beliefs and convictions, affective – spirituality and religious trust, behavioural – church attendance and private practices, and motivational – personal importance. It is clear that cognitive and affective religiousness can directly influence psychological states related to depressive moods, and the social support networks present in religious communities are exactly why so many skeptical people within churches fear the dive away. And once depressed, it’s possible for affected individuals to positively influence remission through religious salience.1

So how does secularism even begin to touch that? It’s often argued that even if beliefs and hopes are false, they should be left alone if people find personal comfort in them; PZ Myers will be one of the first to say that false hopes are socially damaging and should be avoided (he noted this in a panel discussion at the University of Minnesota in 2011), but how can atheism work to replace the documented positive effects of religiousness in certain mental health patients? We start by talking about the origins of mental illness, delusions, and neurodegeneration in reality-based, scientific terms.

The mind/body duality, as well as allusions to divine intervention, promoted by various religions and philosophies over the centuries are intrinsically damaging to the acceptance and treatment of mental illness. Colloquially known as the “it’s all in your head” falsehood, the concept of mental illness as being separated or excluded from obvious physical illness is cemented by the very idea of separation between the psyche and the body. Depression, social anxiety, and the hosts of other neural misfires from which many of us suffer, are rooted in neurobiology and neurophysiology – but so are the emergent properties of the “mind”, e.g. consciousness and self-awareness. So, the sooner the secular movement stabs at this duality misconception within the context of recognizing mental illnesses as physical diseases, the sooner taboos are killed and closets are emptied.

For the social-network savvy younger generations, taking the plunge and admitting to suffering from mental health issues, without the motivational benefits of religiousness, is less difficult than for those of greater generations. And to address the issues of mental health, false hopes, and atheism at more advanced ages could prove exceedingly hairy due to familial and social implications. The existence of religious community and support networks justifies addressing these issues at such a pivotal time in the human condition, and yeah, we atheists have those too. So with such a plethora of safety nets at our backs, why not start addressing mental illness from a secular perspective – at any age? Especially considering that “atheistic belief-based coping can be as effective as religious belief-based coping in helping individuals adapt to various issues that accompany ageing and old age”.2 In their findings from a case study pairing 11 subjects with strong atheistic beliefs with 8 strongly religious subjects, Wilkinson and Coleman write the following:

“Considering Dawkins’s four traditional functions of religious belief [explanation, guidance, consolation, and inspiration], [-], this study provides some evidence that a strong atheistic belief system fulfils [sic] the same role in people’s lives as a strong religious belief system in terms of the explanations, moral guidance, consolation and inspiration that beliefs bring. While science has arguably long surpassed any religion’s explanation of life and the universe, and while man’s moral nature is beginning to be examined in terms of evolutionary psychology, Dawkins admits that religion may trump an atheist’s worldview when it comes to issues of consolation (Dawkins 2006). He no more than suggests that an atheistic outlook on life is just as inspiring as a religious one, if not more so (Dawkins 1998, 2006). Virtually all the interviewed atheists at some point mentioned how inspiring they find science and that their understanding of one’s infinitesimally small position in material reality helped them transcend their own problems.”

If religion truly trumps atheism in the consolation and comfort of mental illness patients, it is only through external consolation and the deportation of control and personal influence. In accepting our depressions, our anxieties, and our personality disorders as physical ailments of the brain, we’re rejecting the religiously-enforced idea that there is something metaphysical about our minds – that there is an impassible gap between our bodies and the roots of mental illness. In discussing mental illness and coping mechanisms within the secular movement, we’re creating a safe space for affected individuals outside of organized religions. And in offering up our communities and compassion to closeted sufferers of mental illness, atheists can protect and advocate for yet another bloc of misinterpreted, misunderstood, and mislabeled people.


  1. Braam, A. W., Beekman, A. T. F., and van Tilburg, W. Religion and depression in later life. Current Opinion in Psychiatry. Volume 12(4), July 1999, pp. 471-475.
  2. Wilkinson, P. J., and Coleman, P. G. Strong beliefs and coping in old age: a case-based comparison of atheism and religious faith. Ageing & Society, Cambridge University Press. Volume 30, 2010, pp. 337-361.