Saturday, April 30, 2011

Liberalism a Religion?

We live in a world where some people say that everything is everything. Professional poker is a “sport.” Alcoholism is a “disease.” Politicians we don’t like are “Nazis.” It sometimes seems like distinctions are more cloudy and nebulous than ever before.

One line which is en vogue to blur is that of religion. This makes sense, since religion has undergone dramatic change over the past few centuries in which the nature of religion and it’s role has been altered.

Religion is no longer tied to the state and law (sort of). Faiths are no longer the primary source for obtaining information regarding existence. However, one thing to keep in mind before I continue is that new institutions did not become like religions, but rather it is religion which is changing in order to adapt and remain relevant in an ever-evolving world.

Still, I am not of the post-modernist view that everything is up for debate, that nothing can be known for sure, and that everything is basically just everything else. Such sophistry is pseudo-intellectual and serves no purpose than to annoy those who still hold distinctions as relevant.

This is why the believer relishes in taunting the atheist with the claim that atheism is a religion. To the believer, everything is all relative, and everything must be relative, otherwise there may come a moment when one realizes how obsolete their faith really is.

It is a basic tactic of rhetoric to equate something someone cherishes with something they despise. So, in atheist circles, it’s not uncommon to hear or read someone compare their opponent’s stance to being “religious” or a “faith.”

I can say quite assuredly that liberalism isn’t a religion, nor is conservatism. In fact, I am bold enough to suggest that only religions are religions. I know, how foolish of me

One thing that is glaringly apparent when it comes to liberalism and conservatism is that not only are they not religions, they are characteristics which religions possess. Liberalism and conservatism are two fundamental ideas, while religions are large collections of fundamental ideas which are systematized into a mythology, sets of rituals, etc.

Trying to claim that liberalism or conservatism are religions is tantamount to saying “determinism is a religion.” Belief that all actions are predetermined is not enough to make a religion. Yes, one’s view of determinism may be defined by one’s religion, but that doesn’t mean determinism is a religion.

Instead, liberalism and conservatism are two very simple ideas. Liberalism is the pursuit of progress, while conservatism is the defense of tradition. There is nothing more to it, though we have attached much more. However, a look at how different countries define “liberal” and “conservative” in terms of individual issues shows that these terms don’t carry much meaning outside of political context.

It’s not that “liberal” and “conservative” have no meaning; this couldn’t be further from the truth. Rather, they have many meanings, and this is a result of the parallel evolution of similarly named ideologies in remote political environments.

Even in America, the classical liberals are seen as quite distinct from modern liberals, just as Jacksonian Democrats bear little resemblance to modern liberal Democrats. This is much the same case with the liberal Republicans of the Lincoln and Roosevelt era compared to modern conservative Republicans (I would argue the first conservative Republican was Reagan, as compared to the very liberal policies of Nixon, including the formation of the EPA, implementation of Title IX, desegregation of Southern schools, open ties with Communist China, etc.).

This is some indication of why these can’t be religions in their own right. Religions simply don’t fundamentallly change this often this quickly. There are probably several factors at play, but part of the problem is that liberalism and conservatism lack a clear, unchanging mythology, and they saying goes that today’s liberal is tomorrow’s conservative.

I would venture into trying to define some liberal and conservative mythologies, but there are a fair number, and I don’t want to forget any, nor do I want to over-simplify or redefine liberalism or conservatism. It means far too many things to far too many people for me to even attempt such a venture and not end up looking foolish. Maybe it would make a good topic for another post.

Ultimately, liberalism and conservatism can mean a lot of different things… they are just not religions.

Saturday Reflection #27

I don’t understand the premise of Republican opposition to abortion. If you want to protect the voiceless millions who are weak and helpless, why not stand up for liberals?

Friday, April 29, 2011

Pithy News 4/29/11

The royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton was broadcast at 3 am Eastern time in the US today. A tentative date in late 2025 has been set for the divorce.

Researchers have determined that restless leg syndrome can be cured by masturbating. No word yet on whether health insurance will finally start covering Kleenex.

Obama released his long-form birth certificate to the public. Donald Trump is now demanding to taste the placenta.

Meanwhile, in real news, tornadoes have ravaged parts of the US. One Alabama atheist described the weather as “like something out of the Bible,” because it spread misery and destruction across the south, and he just couldn’t believe it happened.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Atheism as Religion

I spend a fair number of posts explaining how atheism is not a religion, which is an exercise in futility. Those who believe atheism is a religion won’t be swayed by simple “facts.” If they were, they wouldn’t be religious.

So, I figure: why not analyze how atheism could be a religion?

Before I start, I need to define my terms. Most importantly, I need to explain my capitalization convention when it comes to atheism. To me, “atheism” is the lack of belief in gods, while “Atheism” is the belief that there are no gods. The former is an agnostic position (lacking knowledge), while the latter is a gnostic position (having knowledge). To me, the only possibility for our purposes in discussing a religious form of disbelief would be Atheism.

At this point, it is also important to define what a religion is. The word “religion” comes from the Latin “religio,” which means “piety for the divine.” Here we have our first major hurdle in defining an Atheist religion.

In another sense, religion is defined by ritual. The very word “religious” is used as an adverb to describe the performance of some action in a regular, ritualized manner (or “religiously”). Again, this leads us down a dead-end, as atheism is not particularly associated with any particular rituals.

There is a third aspect of religion that might be exploited in order bend atheism into the shape of a religion. However, atheism can’t do it alone; it is going to need some help from its friends.

One role of religion is to define the nature of all things, from mankind and the world we live in to the universe as a whole and its origin. Atheism has nothing to say on the matter, besides ruling out a supernatural deity from the process, but science does a rather adequate job of filling in the some of the gaps.

I hesitate here, because I find it a to be fundamentally ignorant of religious people to argue that science and atheism are one in the same. One can be atheist while rejecting science or embrace science and theism simultaneously. Science isn’t a religion, nor is it really a true substitute for religion. Yes, science is better than religion (if only because it’s so quick to correct its errors), but one flirts with stupidity when pretending that science is similar to religion.

Still, science is able to answer simple questions about nature which were previously answered (incorrectly) by religions. In this way, science can be used to replace some religious beliefs in the same way that a laptop computer can be used as a paperweight.

Another aspect of religion that needs to be addressed is morality. There are two cues here for atheists: ethics and the law. Some might say ethics is a science, I would disagree. Either way, morality must be addressed by the atheist to some degree.

I highly recommend against using the law as the guide for one’s morality. For one thing, there are many things which are wrong, though they are legal. For another, adopting the status quo as one’s own beliefs is counter-productive in an imperfect world. Unless you think everything is perfect the way it is, there will end up being laws you want changed, removed or added. In this case, one needs some basis for determining what the law ought to be, rather than blind faith in what the law is. This basis is called “ethics.”

Ethics, more than economics, sociology, or any other field of study that straddles the border of science and humanities, is still a largely non-scientific study. If one were to take an ethics class or read a book on ethics, it would essentially be a study in the history of ethics. That is the difference between the sciences and the humanities: science is constantly focused on where we are going, while the humanities is chiefly concerned with where we have been or where we are now.

Still, in the absence of experimentation on what behaviors empirically create better societies, knowing what others have said regarding ethics may be useful in the pursuit of happiness and improvement.

Already we have had to tap into science and ethics in order to complete the religion of Atheism. Things are not looking good for the “Atheism is a religion” argument.

But I have an open mind. Sometimes people have too narrow of a view when it comes to things they’re close to. Religion tends to be defined by the religious, or in the context of mainstream religion. What if I looked to unconventional faiths?

Let’s see… characteristics including:

- charismatic leaders
- a polarized “us vs. them” mentality
- pre-occupation with recruiting others

are some of the tell-tale signs of a cult. Those are things Atheism has covered, without the need to borrow.

I guess what I’m trying to say is… there’s no way Atheism is a religion, but I suppose some people may treat it like a cult.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Top Ten: People Whose Popularity Confuses Me

10. Michele Bachmann
9. Ron Paul
8. Bill Clinton
7. Angelina Jolie
6. Barack Obama
5. Oprah Winfrey
4. Ronald Reagan
3. Glenn Beck
2. Donald Trump
1. Sarah Palin

Monday, April 25, 2011

Music Monday: Cross-Gender Covers

There is something about reversing the genders in a story that can cause one to look at it in a completely new light. These are songs which are given new life by a musical treatment from the other sex.







Saturday, April 23, 2011

Saturday Reflection #26

People who are on TV have their voices heard by people they cannot see, and they fear that no one is watching them. I call this condition “reverse paranoid schizophrenia.”

Friday, April 22, 2011

Economic Darwinism

Politics often makes for strange bedfellows. What is stranger still is the cognitive dissonance that occurs when ideas themselves are bedfellows in the mind of the same individual. There are “pro-life” Republicans who support capital punishment. There are “pro-choice” Democrats who want to tell people what they can or cannot eat, drink, smoke, drive, say…

Basically, you cannot count on modern American politics to be particularly principled. Instead, the two major parties are a hodge-podge patchwork system of individual policies with no discernible ideology underlying the whole platform. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as I myself am quite against the idea of principles without exceptions.

However, sometimes there are just incompatible ideologies that are supposedly pillars of a party, though they blatantly contradict each other. This is the case with Republican economic policy.

The majority of Republicans doubt the theory of evolution. Now, if this weren’t dumb enough, most Republicans then turn around and believe in economic Darwinism. Economic Darwinism is like social Darwinism without all the Nazi eugenic baggage.

Every conservative or Republican or libertarian (all of which are virtually the same in my book) I have talked to about politics have expressed a belief that one’s economic station in life is self-determined. According to right-wingers, poor people deserve to be poor and rich people deserve to be rich.

Of course, there are exceptions. Poor Republicans don’t see themselves as poor because of their own failures. They tend to blame the government (especially Democrats). Meanwhile, if you talk to the right about rich liberals, the Kennedy family for example, there is an undeniable disdain for the generational transfer of wealth and power.

So clearly it is possible for right-wingers to understand that the system is not truly one where hard work and merit win out over privilege and circumstance.

Now please realize I’m not saying all Republicans are racist. However, every poor Republican I have ever met (and I grew up in Indiana, so I knew a lot of poor Republicans) is unbelievably racist. We’re talking going-out-of-their-way racist. I knew people who wished every black person would be shipped back to Africa… except Reggie Miller during his prime. There’s that disconnect again.

A lot of these poor Republicans think black people are just sitting around on city porches drunk and smoking crack on government welfare, even though poor black people tend to be like poor white people. Both are what I would call “the working poor,” which is to say they are employed (maybe even working multiple jobs), but they still do not earn enough money to live unassisted.

There are people right now who work 80 hours a week and live paycheck to paycheck. That isn’t right. Even if all they’re doing is scrubbing toilets, they deserve better compensation. I don’t care what your ideology is or what color you are, you shouldn’t have to work twice as hard just to eke by.

Rich Republicans aren’t much better. Most middle to upper-middle class right wingers I have known are not racist, they’re just classist. They see the poor as lazy, even though the poor work harder than these privileged “I’ll just take a day off to be go golfing” nitwits.

Most are not even particularly bright, as they like to imagine they are. The middle- and upper-class Republicans I know think that because they went to college, they’re somehow better than other people. Never mind the fact that they only got in because their daddy went there and paid for it, or that they majored in drinking with a minor in date rape.

It’s funny, really, because the poor Republicans complain about how they didn’t get into college because of all the negroes (the polite word for “those people”), when really it’s the rich white kids who took their spot. Rich kids get sent to private high schools, have parents who make donations to ensure acceptance, and ultimately drive up the price of tuition.

What poor Republicans are really upset about is that they didn’t get a hand-out, like a scholarship they heard about that went to a handful of black kids, and therefore the system is racist because it rewards people for being black. Meanwhile, it’s the rich that have created the current inflation in education costs at the university level by pushing every middle class child into believing they must go to college, even if they have to take out six-figure loans they are only able to get because of their parents’ credit rating.

They never mention the lack of a hand-out at birth when they were born into an under-privileged family… after all, they love their family. You can’t blame them for being poor… you can only blame people you don’t love for being poor.

And yet, in a way, economics is very Darwinian in our world, though not in the way the right-wing wiches. We do not live in an economic environment where the fittest survive and the weak die off. Instead, we live in a system where wealth is inherited like good genes, passing success through family lineage.

This country was founded on the idea that we should not be ruled by a nobility that consolidates power in the hands of their small, inbred families. Strangely, the inbred poor are now propping up the new nobility.

If you like the idea of spoiled rich kids running the world, I have bad news… this is what they think of the rest of us, the unclean masses:

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Christianity Beyond the Bible

I read a lot about religions of all kinds, but I feel I have a certain specialty when it comes to Christianity. Years of being surrounded by Christians has inevitably given me a different understanding of Christianity than I could possibly have of most other religions.

For example, what I know about Buddhism is what I have read. I don’t know many Buddhists… a handful, but most of them weren’t particularly normal people, so I imagine there is some strange selection bias there.

Islam may be an even worse situation, because I know what I have read (including the Quran and a partial reading of the Sunni hadith) and the portrayal of Islam in the media. While you may be quick to assume I refer to the violent representation, there is that, but there is also the strange PR Muslims who go around trying to spread positive views of Islam… to ridiculous effect. You know the types: they say “Islam means peace,” though Islam means “submission.” I guess in a war, those are probably the same thing, but to me the two terms are not comparable enough for my comfort.

With Christianity, however, I have exposure to an undeniably broad spectrum of believers, more so than with any other religion (though I’m close with Judaism).

There are more types of Christians than I could probably name in a single sitting, but they tend to swing between two extremes: fundamentalists and modern/liberal Christians. I suspect there is a similar spectrum in most religions, and one should be careful before making broad generalizations about these groups.

For example, “fundamentalist” tends to swing the mind towards images of people who take their religion too seriously, to violent results. This is not necessarily the case. Take, for example, a fundamentalist Christian sect like the Amish. Their views are undeniably fundamentalist: they take the Sermon on the Mount to a particularly literal level, and they meet my essential criteria for being a fundamentalist: namely, unusual clothing.

Then there are modern sects like the Mormons, which also have strange clothing (magic underwear), and an overly stringent ideology (no caffeine), and yet they meet my view of what a modern Christian does, which is go beyond the Bible. Essentially, Mormons have created a fundamentalism based on a modernist movement. In many ways most Protestants have followed this path as well (with the exception being those which have continued to liberalize).

While I see fundamentalism as being more dangerous in more cases than liberal religions, I still feel uneasy about most modern Christians. Unfortunately, it’s hard to talk about without using strongly emotional language. I see modern Christianity as the more insidious strain, one which presents a sane face while embracing insanity.

The types of people I’m talking about take many different stances, but they all ultimately take Christianity and adopt ideas that were developed outside of the Bible (and there are those who do the same with some other religion, or an eclectic combination). This generally includes the “spiritual but not religious” folks, as well.

Ideally, I find people who do this annoying. In the context of fundamentalists who go to great lengths to impose their beliefs on others through aggressive evangelism and sometimes even legislation… yeah, I can’t honestly be bothered to care too much about the “I think God will just judge you on how you were as a person,” crowd.

But there is concern, because fundamentalism hides behind the reasonable believers. What’s more, liberalized believers serve only to make religion more appealing, preventing level-headed people from seeing religion for what it is: an antiquated system of educating people.

I can’t blame people for improving on religion. It’s an effective means of reaching people, because religion has some strange attraction for people. There is something about religion that is for humans like a laser pointer is for a cat: it draws the attention, and it remains eternally tantalizing because it cannot be tangibly grasped.

Religion might also be seen as the method by which some part of the brain gets off. I don’t know much about the brain (even less than the little bit that leading neurologists can grasp), but I know that there is some inherent area of the brain that wants the ultimate questions answered for us in a simple narrative. It’s clearly not the same part that craves verification or realism, but it’s in the brain, not the heart. That much I am certain of.

So how do you address someone who is making a concerted effort to make their beliefs more palatable for modern society? I think most people just smile and nod, but I can never just leave well enough alone.

For one thing, I’ve never much understood why people think that they can abandon some part of Christianity and think it’s okay. Rather than go into many different issues, I want to address the primary problem I have seen from very liberalized Christians: the very idea of God.

Perhaps the strangest aspect of the redefinition of Christianity by modern Christians is the idea that, “It doesn’t matter what religion you follow, if you’re a good person you will go to heaven.” What horse shit! I mean honestly, that is the most unfounded idea I have ever seen in my life. That idea is less plausible than the very idea of God.

Make no mistake about it: the most consistent and unchanging idea in the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, is this: God ahead of all else, and you’re damned if you disagree. Two to three of the ten commandments are devoted to this idea (depending on how you number them, as there is some dispute since there is no numbering in the text). An additional commandment is dedicated to a day just for thinking about God.

If there is one idea which is incompatible with Christianity (or any of the monotheisms), it is the belief that worship of God is optional.

There is a further attempt to redefine God as something more abstract than the being that physically walked with Adam and Eve in the garden. I can understand the need to do this in this day and age, where we understand that God doesn’t live in the sky, opening the firmament and unleashing the waters of heaven in the form of rain.

But some people take it too far, especially when discussing something clearly explained in the Bible, like the creation. The Bible is very explicit, and since that happens so rarely, I am angered when people who insist it is “symbolic.”

Sure, the creation myth is “symbolic,” so I guess Jesus is just symbolism too? No? Where does it end when deciding what parts of the Bible are meant to be taken literally? This is not an issue of morality where Jesus softened the expectations, this is an account of how the supposed creator of the universe did his job. Jesus didn’t say something like, “I come to set the record straight: the universe wasn’t created in 6 days thousands of years ago, as can be calculated from the listed genealogy in the Torah…”

I have news for all of those who want to try to mold Christianity into what they wish it was: you don’t have to call yourself a Christian. Get some courage and stand up to the majority. Don’t buy into Christ-lite. I like ideas from Norse mythology, that doesn’t mean I have to say I worship Thor; I just adopt those ideas as my own and incorporate them into my philosophy.

In other words: I don’t care that people are cafeteria Christians. There’s nothing wrong with using an idea from the Bible if you find it appealing. What isn’t necessary, however, is to adopt the misleading moniker of “Christian,” an act which emboldens fundamentalists to make claims such as “Most Americans are Christians, so we should run the country based on Christian values.”

I have nothing to gain by convincing anyone to be an atheist, but I have to admit that I find it productive to convince people to stop pretending they are Christian when they are not.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Liberal Doormats Welcome Failure

There’s a sort of sickness among most liberals, one which I would ideologically trace to the disastrous “political correctness” movement of the 90s. Namely: liberals almost seem to pride themselves on how spineless they are. Obviously, this isn’t how they see it, but this is the reality.

Basically, this is brought to my attention from time to time when I have someone say something along the lines of, “You’re a smart guy, so why do you lower yourself to the level of idiots?” This never carries much water with me, maybe because I don’t see myself as particularly bright (I guess I just appear that way when juxtaposed to such monumental stupidity). What I take away from this is usually the notion that liberals wish I would be more tolerant of intolerance.

There’s no single way of understanding this mentality, because these sort of ideas are endemic among liberals across a broad spectrum. Some are ivory tower liberals who see themselves as so much more civilized and advanced than the unwashed masses who squabble like children, using filthy sailor language. Others are genuinely sensitive types, the kinds of people who don’t want harsh insults to be a part of public discourse. Others are “evangaliberals,” out there trying to make persuasive and compelling arguments based on logic and a keen observation of reality in an attempt to win people over.

In the end, there are more reasons than I could ever fully understand, but in the end… it’s all just bullshit.

Let’s be honest, if someone denies something like global warming or the Holocaust, there is no dialogue that is going to correct that kind of intellectual ostrich; they’re going to stick their head in the sand and just ignore you. I think you would have more success trying to teach an ostrich to fly than trying to get a willfully ignorant person to think.

But let’s suppose you just have to try. Suppose you are compelled by some intangible need to make the world better. I can relate to that; I think it’s only natural for people who have simple needs like food and shelter taken care of to have a desire to influence the world at large. The problem is… most liberals don’t speak the language of fools, so even if they are driven to reach out to them, liberals tend to fail in utilizing the rhetoric of fools (or as I call it, “rhetardoric”) as distinct from the rhetoric that works on liberals.

In business, it is called “marketing.”

Liberals are the worst marketers I have ever seen. Liberals couldn’t sell cocaine to Charlie Sheen. They are completely and utterly useless at phrasing their argument in a way that will compel anyone to get on board, even if they found it appealing beforehand. Just look at a term like “global warming.” It sounds like some kind of comfy blanket that will keep the world cozy. Need an example of a good term for climate change? Try “natural terrorism” or “coastal loss.” You need to emphasize something bad in the name if you want people to oppose it.

Another major problem is that I don’t harbor the typical liberal arrogance. I’m very confident of the things I do know, and I have no problem with stating my opinion matter-of-factly, but I don’t think I’m all that bright. If anything, I’m very lucky, because I’ve been exposed to so much and I have had access to more advantages than the average person (though not quite enough to make me a Republican).

Most liberals have convinced themselves that if they never use words like “retard,” they’re doing a great deed. They see themselves as “above” name calling, even though ad hominem arguments have worked since the beginning of time. Fallacies work, that’s why you have to be taught what a fallacy is before you can understand why it’s a “bad argument.”

The problem is, fallacies are not bad arguments, they’re unfair arguments. They are unfair because they work, despite needing no truth behind the claim in order to seem appealing. What people really mean when discussing fallacies is: “It’s not fair that your name-calling is as successful as my evidence based argument.” Tough shit, kid. Life isn’t fair.

I take a more pragmatic approach when it comes to tactics. I base my own views on empirical evidence, but when it comes to presenting them publicly, I have no problem with using any means necessary to get my way. There is no shame in this; the shame is in failing to stand up for the truth out of some misplaced view regarding honor. Besides, no liberal is going to change their mind and stop being liberal just because I offended them, so it’s not like there is anything to lose besides the moral approval of a bunch of whiney PC Nazis.

Essentially, I see liberals who take this approach as unwilling to do what works in order to get their way, a fundamental betrayal of their core values. If you see yourself as above using language that might actually appeal to people you want to persuade, how much do you honestly care about your views? If someone tells me I’m making a stupid argument while I’m trying to reach stupid people… I take it as a compliment, because clearly I’ve done my job.

In other words, I don’t write this way because I’m stupid, I write like this because I assume stupid people are reading it. Let’s be frank here: if someone based their opinions on scientific research, observations from reality, or the feelings of others, they would already agree with me. Trying to use these reasons to appeal to people who disregard them is a useless endeavor. More liberals should consider lowering themselves to the level of the imbeciles (if that’s how you choose to see it), instead of lording their supposed intelligence over them in an empty show of self-aggrandizement.

You won’t get anywhere using GRE words and scientific studies with someone who does not value such things. When someone is only able spout right-wing platitudes, they more than likely lack the ability to recognize a decent argument (which is why they believe what they believe).

Ultimately, you may come to the conclusion (as I have) that you can’t fix stupid. The ability to change one’s own mind is a trait of intelligence, as it indicates an ability to adapt to new information. It indicates a lack of bias towards one’s own opinions and ultimately their own upbringing, education, and overall socialization. Idiots are incapable of improving because they willfully resist change. The best you can hope for with people like this is to provide yourself with a proper position from which to negotiate.

“Extremism” is a major obscenity in liberal circles. Liberals pride themselves on how moderate they are. The problem is, when liberals adopt moderation in expressing their views, extremists on the right are able to hijack every issue and frame the debate as between the right-wing extreme and the moderate middle. Then, liberals act shocked when the compromise falls invariably right of center.

Regardless of the issue at hand, you must always, always, always ask for more than you want. I cannot stress this enough: if you want the moon, demand the entire night sky. Then, if you end up with only the moon and some of the stars, you still have some leeway in future negotiations and you can afford to lose some ground before what you really care about is up for debate.

Liberals need to be extremists for what is true in order to counter those who are extremely false. In many ways, liberals have become extreme moderates, and it has made the right-wing extremely happy. The left has been declawed, and their ability to fight for their views has been replaced with a blind faith that if one is silently correct, everything will magically just work out and people will somehow spontaneously come to their senses due to the inevitability of progress.

The problem is, progress is not inevitable. It comes only through rigorous effort on the part of those who are aware against those who wander through life aimlessly fighting change at every turn.

Ultimately, it also comes down to an issue of censorship. If you feel that you cannot say what you really think, and if you expect others to mask their contempt for those who are actively working to make this world a worse place, you are not on the side of peaceful discourse, you are passively conservative and you are part of the problem, not part of the solution.

Wednesday Word: Futilitarianism

Futilitarianism: belief that the only thing worth doing is telling others that there’s no point in trying

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Top Ten Twenty: Excuses For Not Blogging Yesterday

20. No one likes Music Monday
19. DM finally found my home address
18. Going for world-record high score on Ms. Pac-Man
17. In the ER with second degree burns on all my finger tips
16. My dog ate my keyboard
15. My grandma is really sick…
14. Two words: alien abduction
13. Found Jesus (He was in my pocket the whole time!)
12. I could tell you, but I would have to eat your brain
11. Twenty-four hour waltz-off
10. I fell and I couldn’t get up
9. Ending conversation with persistent aluminum siding salesman
8. Spanish-American War re-enactment in my backyard
7. Full-body hair inventory
6. Busy donating my time and skills to terminally ill orangutans
5. On the streets educating people about the Amish
4. Finally took a shower
3. On WebMD forum finding out how to treat a sun-burned penis
2. Something having to do with a chinchilla
1. I’m allergic to Monday

Monday, April 18, 2011

Interview: Heathen Republican

Bret: I’m here tonight with Heathen Republican, from the blog of the same name. HR, do you think atheism is under-represented in the Republican party?

HR: Officially, yes. I believe there are several prominent secular conservatives out there... the ones that never refer to God... but for the most part, the Party is assumed to be primarily religious. I still run into plenty of conservative bloggers who just don’t believe it’s possible to be both conservative and atheist.

Bret: Are there any core issues of Republicanism that you disagree with, and does your atheism play any part in that?

HR: I’ll address it as conservatism. Even though I’ve named myself The Heathen Republican, I still consider myself conservative first. Anyway, I don’t think there are any core conservative issues that I disagree with. My areas of disagreement are around faith-based positions like teaching creationism/intelligent design in schools, stem cell research, etc. So policy differences, but I can’t think of any core issues.

Bret: What is your stance on abortion?

HR: I’ve written about this some. Basically, I’m pro-choice before (about) 15 weeks, and pro-life after 15 weeks. I believe the entire issue revolves around when we define “human-ness.” Religious conservatives believe that to be at conception, but I think it comes later in the pregnancy.

Bret: So if you find someone living in your attic, you can’t kick them out if they’ve been there like 16 weeks?

HR: If for the first 16 weeks they are simply a mass of cells, have no brain stem, and don’t look like a human baby, then yes. I think that’s a bit of an unfair analogy, but I’ll play along.

Bret: Well, is it really about the fetus or the mother?

HR: It’s about both human beings, not one or the other. I’m sure we can both agree that at some point, the baby is a person and has its own rights. This is independent of the mother. Once the baby is its own person, the mother loses some rights to how she treats it. I don’t think that’s a controversial position.

Bret: Right, but no one has the right to use someone else against their will after their born. If I needed a liver transplant, and I only need 1/3rd of your liver to stay alive, I can’t force you to give it to me, even though yours will heal back completely. Why does a fetus have privileges a person with a birth certificate doesn’t have?

HR: I’m not seeing the connection. Are you saying aborting a 16 week fetus is like forcing someone to share their liver?

Bret: No, I’m saying forcing a woman into being a concubine after a certain arbitrary point in a pregnancy is a violation of a woman’s sovereignty over her own body.

HR: Okay, but I don’t think the point in time we’re talking about is arbitrary. 15 weeks is the line I draw, but I can’t make a scientific case for it. What I know is that there is a point in time when a fetus is its own individual person. Is your position that that point in time is the moment of birth?

Bret: It doesn’t matter if the fetus is a human or not, is what I’m saying. You’re focused solely on the fetus and its personhood. Let me ask you another question, then... Do you believe we have the right to use force to defend ourselves from a home invader?

HR: Of course.

Bret: Is a home invader a person? Assuming it’s not a bear looking for food of course.

HR: I assume so.

Bret: So it’s okay to use force when someone is doing something to you against your will?

HR: Yes.

Bret: Then why can’t a woman stop a fetus from ruining her life?

HR: Maybe you only heard the last part of my answer, but I believe that a woman CAN stop a fetus from ruining her life for the first 3 1/2 months of her pregnancy. I think after that, abortion is immoral.

Bret: Do you support planned parenthood funding?

HR: No, but on different grounds. I believe that our government has a very limited role, and that doesn’t include Planned Parenthood.

Bret: Do you realize that Planned Parenthood is one tool that helps women detect pregnancies earlier and take care of abortions before 15 weeks? Not to mention prevent the need for an abortion at all.

HR: I’ll save you some time. You can tell me all of the wonderful things that Planned Parenthood does, and I’ll agree with most of them. I believe they fill an important role in society (as I make your Republican readers’ heads explode). No matter how many good things they do, it’s not the role of our federal government to give them tax dollars. There are a lot of good things in the world. That doesn’t mean I’ll support giving tax dollars to support them.

Bret: But stem cell research is okay?

HR: Again, there are two factors here. I think stem cell research is okay. If it has as much promise as proponents suggest, then I see no reason why private industry won’t finance it. There’s a big payoff at the end if they’re right. That doesn’t mean I would support federal funding of research. And I would oppose banning of the research.

Bret: But that’s what Bush did, I believe. He banned federal dollars from funding stem cell research, which really means any university that receives tax dollars can’t do the research, which is every public university. Opposing a ban is essentially lifting the restriction from public research institutions.

HR: My understanding is that he banned federal dollars, but he didn’t ban the research itself. If he banned the research, then that’s something I would disagree with.

Bret: Right, but most money for research comes from the government. It’s certainly not coming from pharmaceutical companies who make billions selling overpriced pills. Which is why the research isn’t done if it can’t be funded using tax dollars.

HR: Assuming you’re right, I think that’s outside the role of government. I think there are arguments to be made for some kinds of research that fit within the government’s constitutionally-defined role. But the two examples you’ve offered I don’t think need funding from government sources.

Bret: What about abstinence education?

HR: You’re hitting me on a lot of issues I haven’t dug into before. My blog is more about big ideas than specific policy issues. I’ll get repetitive here, but the answer really doesn’t change no matter how many issues you throw out: when I read the words that define the government’s role, I don’t see anything that would include abstinence education. In my opinion, the federal government is involved in way too many social issues.

Bret: When you say that, are you simply deferring all of these decisions onto states?

HR: That’s one option, and the states have very different constitutions that could allow that kind of funding. There are also plenty of private organizations that raise money for a variety of causes. There’s no reason to think there aren’t some wealthy donors out there that would support an education program like that.

Bret: Well unfortunately there are, mostly churches. And abstinence education is a state choice, I believe, as are nearly all issues of school programs. So knowing that, how do you feel about abstinence education, keeping in mind that I will point out that it increases teen pregnancies and STD infection rates where it’s taught.

HR: Respectfully, I’m not comfortable offering an opinion based on your stated statistics. Personally, I’m not involved in those programs. If someone knocked on my door looking for a donation, I would turn them away. I support the right of people to create abstinence educational programs as much as contraceptive education programs.

Bret: I’m not sure why you’re so socially callous. It makes me think of the comment you left [on my blog] about how you see homosexual marriage as inevitable. Why do you see that particular issue as inevitable, but still something worth fighting against?

HR: Have we transitioned from the friendly portion of the interview? Naturally, I don’t see myself as socially callous. If you think I’m socially callous because I am not against an education program that increases teen pregnancy and STD infection rates, then I understand your position. I don’t know the source of your statistics, so I’m not going to jump on board quite yet. If it were demonstrated to me that a program was having the opposite effect that its proponents intended, I would agree that something should change. I would hope those proponents would also say the same thing. So I think you’re being unfair to throw statistics at me now, and when I don’t automatically accept them to label me as socially callous. As for same-sex marriage...

Bret: Sometimes I take for granted certain pieces of what I consider “common knowledge.”

HR: One of the things I’ve developed at The Heathen Republican is the idea of the three tensions of politics: the ideological, the political, and the pragmatic. From an ideological perspective, I’m predisposed to prefer tradition over change unless I see very compelling reasons to change. I’m not a fan of change for the sake of change (as most people are not). I think the traditional definition of marriage is a good one, and I have not heard good reasons why it should change. I know that you’re familiar with my post [The Non-Faith-Based Case Against Same-Sex Marriage], so I won’t rehash it here. My statement about inevitability is me being pragmatic: I assume that the progressive movement will win this cultural battle, and eventually same-sex marriage will be the law of the land.

Bret: I know you don’t hate gay people, and I am tempted to say, “Why not just join the winning side,” but on the other hand, I know you’ll be voting Republican regardless of your view on gay marriage, or abortion, or abstinence education... which basically means it doesn’t matter if you change your mind. Do you ever feel like Republican candidates don’t represent you or conservatives as a whole, who I have found to not be as homogenized as the Republican party’s politicians?

HR: Republicans generally represent my ideological views and Democrats never do, so my voting decision is an easy one. The problem that I see with politics is that people like me, a self-described ideologue, expect our politicians to always fight the fight and stand their ground. But there are always political and pragmatic reasons for compromising, which annoys the hell out of the ideologues. I see that this is also happening with the left right now. Many people are upset with Obama because he’s not toeing the ideological line, and they can’t stand to see him compromise. Frankly, the idea of the three political tensions has helped me to cope with the cognitive dissonance I sometimes feel when I watch Republicans and how they behave.

Bret: I have no problem understanding why politicians do what they do. It’s pretty similar to understanding why an old guy has a hot, young wife: money. Is that usually the “pragmatic” tension?

HR: Yes, but that’s true for both sides, so knowing that doesn’t help decide who to vote for.

Bret: I should tell you I’m not a Democrat, not that it matters. But I have nothing to sell in the political race. I’m of the opinion that voting for someone who doesn’t represent you is not worth doing.

HR: But am I wrong that you tend toward the progressive side? Based on what I’ve read, that seems true.

Bret: Oh, I’m left of liberal. I think Democrats are just Republicans who minorities vote for.

HR: So yes, it’s pragmatic, but also political. The Politico says things like “Republicans want to kill seniors.” The Pragmatist looks for people to make a deal with because they think voters measure them by what they get done.

Bret: So then you’re for cutting Medicare?

HR: I recognize that we have an established social safety net that includes Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, unemployment benefits, welfare, etc. While ideologically I think these are outside the realm of the government’s role, I recognize that we can’t take it away. Honestly, I wouldn’t want to. If I had been around at its inception, I probably would’ve opposed Medicare. Now that it’s established law, I’d rather get it so that it’s self-funded and doesn’t break the bank.

Bret: What do you see the role of government being then, just shooting foreigners and defending whatever laws are already on the books?

HR: If you read my post on limited government (in depth), it outlines the basics. The usual: common defense, administer justice, foreign affairs, ensure free commerce, coin money, post offices, and don’t infringe on individual rights. But remember, that’s the ideology talking. When I say things like maintain a social safety net, that’s the pragmatic side of me coming out.

Bret: Wouldn’t you say the government also has a role to defend rights, not just avoid infringing?

HR: That feels a little like a trick question (I realize you probably don’t mean it as one). I’ll give it more thought and post something if my answer changes, but off the top of my head, no, it’s not the government’s role to defend rights. Rights belong to individuals and the government is the greatest risk to those rights. I would not ask a fox to guard my hen house, either.

Bret: So I don’t have the right to drink unpolluted water or breathe unpolluted air?

HR: That’s a very broad definition of rights. But no, you don’t have an inherent right to those things, nor do you have a right to health care, a good paying job, or annual vacations (unless you’re in Scandinavia). I’d say we have a societal obligation to clean up our water and our air, but describing these things as rights takes it too far.

Bret: So we have the right to life... unless we’re being slowly killed for profit?

HR: I don’t have a brilliant retort for that one.

Bret: Well, I only say because I don’t see things so black and white. I don’t see government as the biggest threat in my life. I don’t even interact with the government on a day-to-day basis, but I do interact with private organizations, and many of them don’t treat me as though I have any rights at all.

HR: Do I really sound black and white? I used to think the one thing that progressives and conservatives shared was a distrust for government. But that only lasted while Bush was in the White House. Now it’s only conservatives that don’t trust government.

Bret: Don’t misunderstand me, I know government has the potential to infringe on my rights. What I see as a problem is, I look at the problem of individual rights being infringed by individuals, private organizations and government, while conservatives have tunnel vision and only blame government... unless a Republican is in office. When a Republican is in office, they blame Democrats and Muslims. And who can tell the difference between those two, right?

HR: I don’t think that’s accurate. We conservatives recognize when corporations do evil things, and they do them often. More accurately, they are amoral so they don’t actively do good things. We have faith in a system... capitalism... to control most corporations and to punish those that do wrong. When the system doesn’t do it, we believe that some government regulation is appropriate. We’re not whacky libertarians who think we don’t need regulation (that’s for Free). What I see is that progressives ONLY blame corporations. That’s who’s wearing the blinders when they can’t see the problems in government. I happily blame government even when Republicans are in office. There’s an inertia to government that it interferes and grows no matter who’s running it. While I trusted Bush, I never trusted “government” while he was in charge. And I’m ignoring the Muslim comment.

Bret: Does it bother you that we lost civil liberties in a big way under Bush?

HR: I’m not aware of any civil liberties that I lost. Which one did you lose?

Bret: Well for one, I don’t fly anymore for obvious reasons.

HR: I fly 25% for work, so I can tell you I haven’t lost any civil liberties there.

Bret: But it’s not about you and what you’re okay with sacrificing. Just as you don’t see what’s wrong with gay people not being allowed to marry someone of the same gender since neither can you, your own tolerance for tyranny isn’t really justification for nullifying freedoms we should all be afforded. Why does the government get to ignore its own basic bill of rights whenever it gets scared?

HR: You do realize that you just altered the argument because you couldn’t respond to mine? You made the question about me when you asked “does it bother YOU that WE lost civil liberties...”

Bret: Well, I’m asking why you’re callous to the feelings of others and only self-concerned. Like asking a white person in the South during the sixties if they have a problem with racism, and them saying “Well, it doesn’t bother me.”

HR: Sorry, I’ll try next time to answer your question as you meant to write it instead of how you actually wrote it. I’m not aware of the government under Bush ignoring the Bill of Rights. If you can offer me an example, I’ll be happy to respond to it. I’m angry that Obama is nullifying my freedom not to purchase health insurance, but I don’t see your anger over that. That’s my example; let me hear yours.

Bret: Do you have health insurance?

HR: I do.

Bret: So then it doesn’t affect you, why complain?

HR: So let me address the point you’ve repeated a few times: that I’m callous to the feelings of others. I opine on the topics of religion and politics. I try to talk about big ideas. I don’t believe a government can craft legislation based on its compassion or feelings for individuals. This way lies ruin. I am compassionate. I feel for the people around me. I want my government to abide by its defined role and make broad policy decisions that are good for everyone as a whole, not everyone individually. I realize my mistake has been to answer you in the same language that I blog, which has led you to think that I don’t care for the feelings of individuals. It’s not true, but I don’t write about my gay friend at work; I write about ideology.

Bret: Well, here’s what I see: I see someone who claims that they care about other people, but when it comes to changing anything that doesn’t directly affect themselves, they don’t really see the need to change anything... unless a Democrat came up with the idea fairly recently (but 80 years ago is okay now). I could say I love gay people all day long, that I have gay friends, and I could even have gay sex in bathrooms on weekends. If I oppose an issue like gay marriage, it doesn’t much matter what else I do, I’m standing in the way of people’s dreams for no reason.

HR: I’ll have to read back through the text of this and see how I gave you that impression. As you describe me, I don’t like me either.

Bret: That’s just it, you might be the most polite and nice guy in the world, but it doesn’t much matter what a person’s personality is if they support policies which ignore the rights of others. Like when you ask me if the PATRIOT ACT or some other Bush policy ever affected me, it’s not about me. I don’t make my choices about what to believe based on what I am, I base it on the concept that we live in a society with different people with different goals and aspirations.

HR: Sounds like we can’t leave the same-sex marriage issue behind. Just because you don’t like the reason stated, doesn’t mean I’m standing in the way of their dreams for no reason. I say it clearly at The Heathen Republican, but for those readers who don’t click that far, I fully support civil unions. I think they are the perfect compromise to allow equal rights for homosexuals and maintain the traditional definition of marriage. Our federal government should recognize them.

Bret: Right, but the “separate but equal” doctrine is always abused. It’s always been a tool used to try to placate people and stall the expansion of liberty.

HR: I don’t find the possibility for abuse to be a compelling reason not to support something. For the record, civil unions are one thing that progressives came up with that I support. On the Patriot Act, let’s not talk about you and me. Tell me the “concept” that violated the Bill of Rights. I love big ideas, but I haven’t heard specifics on what rights were lost conceptually, either.

Bret: Well let’s start with the basic principle of expanding the federal government’s power. I guess that’s only a problem when a Democrat does it?

HR: Do you have any specifics in mind? As I’ve said, common defense is a prescribed role for the government, so I won’t automatically object to government expansion for the purpose of national defense.

Bret: Well we’ll get back to that, since our interview has to wrap up. Final question, which for me is always a random tangent: would you rather have the right to bear arms or privatized health care? If you had to choose one.

HR: I think a government-run health care system would kill me faster, so I guess I’d have to choose privatized health care. Thank god (sic) it’s not a real choice that has to be made.

Bret: We also would have accepted “The right to bear arms, so conservatives could fight a Civil War to end universal healthcare.”

HR: Yeah, but that’s cheating. Basically a way to get both. I’m a conservative so I try to play by the rules.

Bret: Thanks for taking the time, and I’m sure we’ll do this again soon.

HR: It was fun.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Saturday Reflection #25

There are two things that are certain in life: death and tax loopholes for the rich.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Discussion: Libya

Did America do the right thing in Libya? If not, what should America have done?

The Trial of Saint George

The judge bangs his gavel. “Right, let’s get called to order then, shall we? We have a long docket today and I’d like to wrap this one up before tea.”

The bailiff steps forward. “In the trial of the people versus George the soldier, the defendant has been accused of killing the last of an endangered species, violating the new environmental protection act. George, how do you plead?”

“Of course I slayed the dragon—”

“George,” says the judge. “Has your counsel not advised you that a simple guilty or not guilty will suffice?”

George whispers with his lawyer while the judge slinks back, puts his elbow on the arm of his chair, and rests his cheek in his open palm.

“Not guilty, you’re honor.”

“Does the prosecutor have any evidence to admit?”

“Actually,” says the king’s attorney. “We would like to skip right to calling our first witness, as we think this will be sufficient.”

The judge gives a half-hearted wave of his hand. “Proceed.”

“The prosecution would like to call George the Soldier to the stand.”

George seats himself in the witness booth, his wrists and legs in shackles.

“George, would you be so kind as to tell us the story of how you killed the last dragon?”

“Well, it’s like this. See, I was in a far-off land when I came to a city next to a pond that was as large as a lake, but it wasn’t a lake, it was a pond…”

“You can skip the theatrics and get right to where you killed the dragon,” says the prosecutor.

“I think it’s important for my case if the whole story is told,” says George. “As it turned out, this city was being terrorized by a dragon. At first, they would feed it one sheep every day. Then, they had to feed it two sheep every day. Finally, it got to the point when I had arrived where they were feeding the dragon one child a day, chosen by random lottery.

“I happened to ride past a young woman tied up at the enormous pond, and she told me the story of the dragon. As it turns out, she was the dragon’s next victim, and was the king’s daughter. Though her father had offered up all his riches to the citizens, they would rather let her die than one of their own. Against her warnings, I decided to remain and defend her.”

“So you picked a fight with the dragon by ambushing it as it tried to feed?” asked the prosecutor.

George scrunches his face in confusion “We’re talking about a human being!”

“So let me get this straight,” says the prosecutor. “You set out to massacre the last dragon and cause it’s extinction from the world by using a woman as bait?”

“Yes, but, wait, no… okay, look. I stabbed the dragon and tied it to a leash to bring into town with the princess, who I saved from death by the way. I told the frightened townspeople that I would free them all from the terror of the dragon if they converted to Christianity.”

The courtroom erupts in murmuring.

“Order,” says the judge.

“So then, what happened?” asks the prosecutor.

“So they converted and, true to my word, I chopped off the dragon’s head,” says George.

Shocked gasps and more murmuring come from the gallery.

“There will be order in this court!” screams the judge.

“Just so I understand you,” says the prosecutor, pacing in front of the judge. “Not only did you slaughter the last of the rarest of animals, you did it in front of women and children, but not before using it as a threat in order to force your religion upon them?”

“What?! No! You’ve completely misunderstood what happened,” says George.

“I’ve heard enough,” says the judge. “George, I hereby fine you five hundred pounds for the crime of killing an endangered species, the maximum allowable sentence, given the nature of the infraction.”

“My god!” shouts George. “Do you have any idea how much that is in 4th century currency?”

“Bailiff, lead him out of the courtroom. We’ll adjourn for tea and resume in forty-five minutes with the case of Ireland vs. St. Patrick.”

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The God of Pluto

People are weird and illogical. For instance, take the uproar caused when the planet Pluto was demoted from being a planet at all.

Now, no one’s family lives on Pluto. In fact, no one has ever been there. There are no fond memories of Pluto in a tangible sense. And yet, people feel an attachment to Pluto. Even though our understanding of what a planet is has changed, even though science knows more about Pluto’s history, composition, mass, and orbit… no one likes the idea of Pluto no longer being a planet.

In some ways, this is very symbolic of a particular problem with people: the inability to abandon the familiar for something new. Even though we know adaption is important, even though we acknowledge we are not perfect, even though it makes no difference one iota one way or the other whether Pluto is classified as a planet or not… going against tradition just rubs people the wrong way.

I don’t know what to chalk it up to. I am tempted to say intellectual laziness. After all, it’s not a major inconvenience to learn one simple new fact and replace the error with a correction based on new data. But there is also some irrational attachment, not just a reluctance to relearn something.

Others have no problem. Some of us understand that science “knows” nothing, and science is limited by the finite information available. Unless we decide to stop discovering, to stop analyzing, to stop thinking, there are bound to be things that we were taught as children that turn out to be wrong. Sometimes a Brontosaurus turns out to be an Apatosaurus, just as sometimes we find out we evolved from monkeys rather than being made from dirt and a rib in a garden with a talking serpent that had legs… for a little while.

See, even in the Bible, things change. So why are we so afraid to admit to ourselves that sometimes an idea we thought we knew turns out to be incorrect?

Besides, you may have been wrong, but Pluto used to be a god, then he was a planet, now… he’s just Mickey’s dog.

I am proud to live in a time when we are getting smarter at such a rate that information I learned as a kid will be obsolete within my lifetime.

Interview: Mike Brownstein

Ginx: I’m here tonight with Mike Brownstein of the blog “Politics and Pucks.” So Mike, how would you characterize your blog?

Mike Brownstein: I would say it’s a blog where I post my thoughts about hockey and politics. I generally stick to politics, but I like to think of my blog as a way to talk about political science and politics and make it accessible to everyone.

Ginx: How is West Lafayette this time of year?

Mike Brownstein: It’s pretty nice and calm. We’re actually in an interesting political season where we have a city council race that is seeing some interesting candidates. Two undergraduates in the Purdue political science department are running against each other. We also have some other familiar faces I’ve blogged about during the 2010 election who are in these races.

Ginx: What happened politically in Indiana in 2010? I used to live in Carmel, but I have really lost touch with what’s going on in the state.

Mike Brownstein: Locally in West Lafayette, we actually had all our state legislator incumbents win re-election. Overall in Indiana, it’s become highly conservative in the state Congress. Outside of that, a lot of local Democrats lost their positions. We were pretty active when it came to tea party candidates, including Donn Brown (one of the candidates that I wrote a lot about, and was interesting to say the least) that lost by 19 points locally.

Ginx: Why do you think Indiana swung Democrat for Obama in 2008?

Mike Brownstein: Having discussed this with local OFA volunteers and leaders, we all agree that the Obama Campaign was very good about reaching out to young voters. During the election, the McCain campaign was virtually non-existent on Purdue’s campus, which is surprising for how conservative it is.

Ginx: What are your thoughts on Obama?

Mike Brownstein: I think he’s in a considerably difficult position. Overall, I think he’s done a good job, considering the crises he’s had to deal with. I wasn’t someone who thought he would change the world by being POTUS [President of the United States]. My biggest issue with Obama has been his handling of media. I think the White House’s communication with the public has been poor, which is very surprising considering his campaign was built on Web 2.0 communication. Overall a strong B+.

Ginx: I don’t think I would even recognize Obama’s press secretary. I don’t understand how he’s so bad with media.

Mike Brownstein: I really liked Robert Gibbs as a Press Secretary. He gave the position more of a personality that it didn’t have in the Bush years.

Ginx: Where did you see him? What channel?

Mike Brownstein: I watch C-Span, the White House posts their press briefings to Youtube. Gibbs would also post pictures and leak information on Twitter

Ginx: So you had to go looking for it?

Mike Brownstein: Yeah, but I expect that.

Ginx: Really, because Bush and his press team were all over every channel during his presidency

Mike Brownstein: Yes and no; I think there was more attention because the press and the Bush Administration were not on the best terms

Ginx: Maybe the press should start hating Obama, because the exposure only seemed to help bush, especially early on. I feel like a B+ is awfully generous, like a high school grading scale, not college level.

Mike Brownstein: I’ve been in college for 6 years, it’s hard to remember what the standards were like (for clarification I have a bachelors).
Ginx: Going for a Master’s or PhD?

Mike Brownstein: The end goal is a PhD. I am working on a Masters right now, and I’m looking into PhD programs.

Ginx: In Poli Sci?

Mike Brownstein: It is very likely to be political science. I’m also looking into political communication.

Ginx: What do you think of the overall political discourse in America today?

Mike Brownstein: I think we’re in a position right now where there’s a lot of frustration with the economy. When that happens, it’s not uncommon for there to be distrust and cynicism towards government. I think the discourse has gotten a bit nasty, but from a completely unempirical standpoint, I think it’s a generational effect. My generation thinks radically differently from the generation in power, and they’re scared. My generation is completely okay with LGBT culture, atheists are not evil people, and we’re a little more open to social change.

Ginx: So then based on that and your assessment of Obama, you seem like an optimist. So what are you seeing that I’m not?

Mike Brownstein: I am a bit optimistic. I think the older generation is not comfortable with the changes in social structure, the era of nuclear families is over. Another example of how I think the older generation is scared is DOMA. My generation is going to have to overturn that, because we tend to accept LGBT a lot more than the older generation. There’s a lot of social damage that my generation will likely have to undo.

Ginx: DOMA also prevents polygamy. What are your thoughts on that?

Mike Brownstein: I think DOMA is mostly aimed at LGBT individuals, because polygamy seems to be an afterthought in these debates.

Ginx: Certainly, but there is a very careful wording that “marriage is between one man and one woman.” I only ask because conservatives incite the fallacy of a slippery slope, and I’m curious what your feelings are on expanding the definition of marriage.

Mike Brownstein: I think it’s mostly an issue that has to do with religion, wanting to hold on to the little influence it really has left in government. I really don’t have a strong view either way on the issue of polygamy to be completely honest.

Ginx: I’m actually interviewing someone Friday or Saturday who is atheist and a Republican, and I’ll be talking to him about his opposition to gay marriage

Mike Brownstein: That sounds very interesting.

Ginx: Not really, it’s the same old “fear of change” argument. What is it about change that people are so afraid of?

Mike Brownstein: It’s uncomfortable.

Ginx: Well then they’re not using enough lube

Mike Brownstein: :-D

Ginx: But seriously, what is uncomfortable about it? It’s not as though gay people aren’t having sex, holding hands, pr kissing now, and letting them marry will just open the flood gate.

Mike Brownstein: Well, I think the problem is that it still makes Americans uncomfortable. As someone who considers themself to be a strong ally of the LGBT community, I think it’s hard to tell two individuals who are together in a committed relationship that they cannot enjoy the same benefits that a straight couple can.

Ginx: It makes me wonder what might be legislated against next... maybe a law banning May/November marriages, since that makes me gag. If the guy is older than the girl’s dad, maybe it shouldn’t be a marriage, it should be prosecuted as prostitution.

Mike Brownstein: Right, which is an attempt to legislate morality, which I think is a terrible way to run government because social standards change over time.

Ginx: Do you believe there are still wedge issues, or has the 24 hour news cycle killed them by introducing new issues on a constant basis?

Mike Brownstein: Absolutely wedge issues still exist...abortion, same-sex marriage, atheists, tend to still scare people.

Ginx: So you think there’s just more?

Mike Brownstein: More wedge issues?

Ginx: Yeah, it used to be that there was one or two things you were electing someone to do, but now there’s like a dozen things, and no one seems to focus on doing any of them upon election.

Mike Brownstein: It’s just the posturing that candidates do on the campaign trail. If a Republican doesn’t say they’re pro-life, they may miss out on a lot of campaign funds.

Ginx: Why is funding so important? It’s not as though votes can be literally bought, so why are the American people are easily swayed by marketing?

Mike Brownstein: Well, political science would tell us that there’s a number of ways to look at this question some people who research media politics will tell you that advertising does nothing, some will tell you that they do make a difference. Funding is vital in campaigns because it covers a lot of basic costs: transportation, staffers, etc. It doesn’t always determine the winner, but it definitely helps to have a warchest.

Ginx: It’s obviously too early to hold you to any prediction, but who do you think will be the Republican candidate in 2012?

Mike Brownstein: This gets discussed among my cohort at school a lot... every day I seem to have a different answer, but I think it will come down to three candidates: Huckabee (if he chooses to run), Romney, and Pawlenty. I think all of the candidates are fairly weak...and let’s all keep in mind that it’s very, very early to even start talking about who is the front-runner

Ginx: Do you think any current probable candidate has a shot at beating Obama, as it stands now?

Mike Brownstein: At the moment, no.

Ginx: What makes you think Obama is doing well? I have to know, as a liberal who hates the guy.

Mike Brownstein: I think he is doing well for one reason alone: the economy. We’re out of the recession, which could have been a very deep depression.

Ginx: You think the worst is behind us?
Mike Brownstein: I think so, however, I think if the Republicans take the Senate I think we will have a lot of rough economic times ahead...

Ginx: I’m not sure things are so rosy. Unemployment is still high and education spending has been cut.

Mike Brownstein: Its coming down. I’m unemployed and I’m all too familiar with the statistic that 1 in 5 in my cohort can’t find summer work. It’s rough, but I think unemployment around 7-8 percent is okay for the economy. I’d love for that number to be lower, but economic dynamics are changing globally.

Ginx: You mean like how companies go overseas so they can pay their workers a pittance?

Mike Brownstein: It’s become a very international and global economy...

Ginx: Well, that’s one way of turning it into a euphemism.

Mike Brownstein: It’s not the best thing to say, but sometimes America loses...it’s the nature of economics.

Ginx: Most countries enact protectionist policies, but this country has decided to clear any roadblocks or taxes or tariffs on operating over-seas.

Mike Brownstein: I don’t like it when that happens either. The free market can’t solve everything, but protectionist economic policy would isolate us.

Ginx: I don’t think that’s true. There are creative solutions, such as banning the import of products which would not meet legal standards had they been produced in the US. So, if the workers were payed what was essentially below minimum wage, it wouldn’t be imported. If the environmental impact would have been illegal here (assuming we still have environmental regulations anymore), it shouldn’t be imported. It’s not isolationist to prevent companies from circumventing measures meant to stop abuse here by going somewhere else, it’s simply enforcement of American law on American companies.

Mike Brownstein: I can agree with that.

Ginx: But democrats can’t, because they’ve been bought.

Mike Brownstein: Of course.

Ginx: So why are people even voting for democrats? Where is the liberal movement to actually be represented?

Mike Brownstein: I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that they’re less crazy than Republicans, and I think liberals are identifying less with the party, but don’t see a viable alternative party.

Ginx: Are there any politicians at the federal level that you can point to and say they represent you?

Mike Brownstein: I do feel represented by Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-OH, Toledo area).

Ginx: Are those local for where you’re from?

Mike Brownstein: I used to live in Toledo growing up. Brown is someone I generally agree with.

Ginx: Is there anything about the Democrats from 2008 until now that disappointed you?

Mike Brownstein: Yes, I think they could be stronger on social issues. They’re doing well with issues of church and state, LGBT...but they can be doing a lot better.

Ginx: I don’t get the impression atheism and religion are something discussed all that much in politics, at least from a perspective I would find constructive. It mostly seems to be about Muslims and attacking them.

Mike Brownstein: Actually atheists get targeted a lot, too.

Ginx: What are the big atheist issues in politics at the moment?

Mike Brownstein: I think one that is being discussed a lot within the atheist community is religious influence in the military. There was an event that was going to occur at Fort Bragg a few weeks ago, and it was cancelled due to a lack of funding.

Ginx: So atheists want to join the military and shoot people without all that preaching?

Mike Brownstein: Or be allowed to be exempt from religious obligation. There’s a test that is given that tests “spiritual fitness,” and atheist military members have reported chaplains using this as a bully pulpit.

Ginx: I bet if they institute a draft, a lot of atheists will be glad to be found spiritually unfit.

Mike Brownstein: I think so, but I think that there are soldiers who are atheists, are proud to serve their country, but would rather not have religion dictate their standing with the military. If we’re allowing LGBT, we should also be allowing atheists. It’s absolutely wrong to tell someone they can’t serve because they are attracted to their same sex, just as it’s wrong to tell someone they can’t serve because they don’t want to pray and read a holy text.

Ginx: But if we let atheists into the military, there will be atheists in foxholes. We can’t have that...

Mike Brownstein: But they’re already there.

Ginx: At least they’re in the closet, where we belong.

Mike Brownstein: I don’t like being in the closet.

Ginx: Maybe yours isn’t as big as mine, mine is a huge walk-in.

Mike Brownstein: Mine’s kind of small and uninhabitable.

Ginx: I just wonder why the military is often the first to get liberalized. It was accepting women before a lot of businesses. It is more accepting of gays now than the national marriage policy, and they enjoy socialized medical care. I want to know how this is the case and yet the military is considered conservative.

Mike Brownstein: I really don’t know either, it’s a strange phenomenon that maybe a social scientist should look into.

Ginx: Do you feel liberalism is even represented in the national debate? Because i feel like liberalism is dead in America.

Mike Brownstein: It’ll come back. The same thing was said about conservatism in the 1970s.

Ginx: 1970’s conservatism did die, though. Modern conservatives don’t even remotely resemble Republicans of the 70’s, or even democrats of the 60’s (which I think they’re closer to).

Mike Brownstein: I’d say so... the Republicans are a lot like the Dems were in the 60s or the fringe-y GOP in the 1950s.

Ginx: Do you see the tea party as a real movement?

Mike Brownstein: In what sense?

Ginx: Well, I see it as an attempt to rebrand Republicanism post-Bush, like Philip Morris changing its name to the Altria group. New name, same bullshit.

Mike Brownstein: Right. I see them as a function of Neo-con rebranding...but I also see it as a reaction by conservative whites to changing demographics.

Ginx: You think there’s a racial component?

Mike Brownstein: Yes...if you look at census projections...whites will be a minority within 15 years. I’m perfectly comfortable with that, as I think many of my generation are.

Ginx: But it’s not like tea partiers know statistics. If they believed in scientific observation, they wouldn’t be tea partiers.

Mike Brownstein: Of course not...

Ginx: Do you think there is any liberal counter to Fox News?

Mike Brownstein: MSNBC...but I’m not the biggest fan

Ginx: you really think MSNBC is as liberally biased as Fox News is right-wing biased?

Mike Brownstein: No, MSNBC is biased left, but not as far right as Fox is.

Ginx: Okay, final question: if you could change any 5 policies, what would they be?
Mike Brownstein: Wow… liberalize abortion similar to Scandinavia, remove complete tax amnesty from churches, work on transitioning away from gasoline by investing in alternative energy resources… 2 more.

Ginx: And no making policies for more policies!

Mike Brownstein: Increase the standards for background checks for gun ownership, and make birth control more widely available. There’s five.

Ginx: Excellent. Alright Mike, thanks for taking the time.

Mike Brownstein: Not a problem, thanks for having me.

Ginx: Have a good night, and good luck with those boiler makers.

Mike Brownstein: Will do.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Top Ten: -ism’s That Are Almost Religions

10. Hypnotism
9. Narcissism
8. Cynicism
7. Primitivism
6. Relativism
5. Veganism
4. Absolutism
3. Functionalism
2. Nationalism/Patriotism
1. Consumerism

Monday, April 11, 2011

Music Monday: Fiona Apple

In these days of mp3s, customized playlists, and iPods that hold thousands of songs, not many people listen to entire albums anymore. The reason is obvious: pop music is full of one-hit wonders, flash in the pan gimmicks, and an overall lack of talent. People don’t put a lot of time into their music anymore.

Not so with Fiona Apple. She released three studio albums between 1996 and 2005, and her new album is set to be released this Spring. While she does have a label that may be dragging her down, trying to squeeze more radio-friendly tracks on her albums, she is also busy collaborating with other artists and performing benefits.

The time paid off, however, as all three of her albums are flawless. Even my favorite artists have songs that are okay at first, but make me hit “skip” when I’m listening to it in the car for the five thousandth time (I’m thinking of “tourette’s” on Nirvana’s In Utero). Fiona Apple’s work is all good. I haven’t heard a single song she’s done that I didn’t like.

In honor of her quality, I’ll be posting a higher quantity of her work.









*Bonus Track*

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Two Dudes: President

The Exit Interview

“I really can’t afford to be terminated,” he says, rubbing his sweaty forehead. “My daughter’s getting married next month. That would sort of ruin the whole mood, and I don’t want to put my daughter through that.”

I nod and try to bury my nose even further into the book I’m reading, “The Tibetan Book of the Dead.” They say these are the words which are chanted by monks over a dying or dead person which leads them to enlightenment. I figure it’s something worth knowing.

“What do you think your chances are?” the guys asks me, not getting the hint.

I shrug.

“I don’t know how you can be so cool about it. You must be confident.”

I put my book down with my finger saving the page. “Yeah, confident I won’t be here tomorrow.”

“That bad, huh?” he says, with an almost twisted satisfaction in his voice. Misery loves company, but right now, I just want to be alone. I want to gather my thoughts and be prepared. It’s not like this will be easy. I always sensed I was going to be let go. I haven’t been pulling my weight for some time, and I’m just not worth the resources anymore. I’ve resigned myself to it, with the help of my therapist and Xanax.

“You know, I could put in a good word for you,” he says. I guess he feels like he has to say something to try to help.

“You don’t even know me,” I say.

“It’s not like they know that. You and me, oh sure, we go way back. Real stand up guy.”

“No, it’s just that time. Like when Eskimos used to send their elderly out on an ice flow because they’re more trouble than they’re worth.”

“Inuits.”

“What?” I ask.

“They prefer to be called Inuits.”

I laugh. “Well, you learn something new every day.”

“Hey, if you start cramming now,” he says with a smile, “maybe you can fool them into thinking you’re worth keeping around.”

“Yeah, maybe.”

The door opens and one of the suits steps out, staring down at his clipboard. “George Anderson,” he says.

“Well, wish me luck,” the man who is apparently named George says.

“Good luck, and all my best for your daughter and her special day.”

“Here’s hoping,” George says, straightening his tie as the door closes.

I’m alone in the room. I showed up early because I already had all my affairs in order, and I had nothing left to do. I’m fairly confident I’ll be checking out today, so I just unburdened myself of my usual duties.

It was tough, honestly, not doing the usual routine. I’ve been doing it for 38 years. Now that change is coming, I’m at a loss. I don’t even know what to do with myself. I feel so cliché, turning to religion in my situation. Grasping out for every scrap of meaning I can find, hoping there’s something deeper I missed that might make it all easier.

When I was growing up, I was so sure I was going to be somebody. I was different, I would be important. People would wait with baited breath, hanging on my every word. I would be so famous I would retreat from the publicity, and get sick of being asked for autographs at urinals. Then I would have a tasteful come back. I had it all figured out…

Ah, to be young again and know everything. There was nothing I couldn’t solve in my imagination when I was in my 20s. Then, at some point, I became cynical and believed none of my own bullshit, or anyone else’s bullshit for that matter.

Of course, you don’t have to believe in something in order for it to affect you. I guess that’s been the case with me these last few years. I don’t like where we’ve ended up as a society, but it’s bigger than me. What can I do to change it? I’m already busy enough being obsolete.

It’s odd how the only people with the time to fix things are the people who already have more than they could ever need. It’s no wonder we as a culture are in no rush to correct our mistakes: everyone either can’t find the time to fix it or they’re too busy enjoying their undeserved success.

And here I was, positive that I would just find myself at the top. There was never a plan, I just relied on the hope that I was exceptional. I guess, in retrospect, I should have looked at how pedestrian my parents were. Then, it might have occurred to me that I wasn’t going to grab the world by the tail.

The door opens and the suit calls my name. I set my book down in the room on the table, alongside fashion and sports magazines. Hopefully the next person takes something more from it than I did.

We go through a long hallway lit with bright fluorescent bulbs. The walls are lined with typical motivational posters, with majestic pictures and inspirational quotes beneath. One says “Teamwork / When we all work together, we all win together.” The picture shows skydivers in a circle formation, plummeting towards the Earth.

I have a seat in the chair across from the interviewer and I eye the security guard as he positions himself in front of the door behind me, which he closes.

“Do you know what I’m going to say to you?” the interviewer asks, peaking out over the frames of his glasses.

I nod, fidgeting with my tie. I straighten my hair with the palm of my hand.

“So you’re aware of your impending termination?”

I nod again.

“Am I to understand you’ve sorted out all the necessary loose ends?”

I nod one more, wordless. There’s no big scene, there’s no angry exchange.

“Alright then. The guard will escort you to the room where you’ll fill out the exit forms and we can finalize your termination.”

He says this last bit while typing furiously at his keyboard, making no eye contact with me. I half expect him to shoo me off with a wave, but pretty soon the guard has his hand on my shoulder and the interviewer is still typing.

The forms take no time at all to complete. I look at the guard, who stares back at me, unflinching. He’s a big guy, maybe six foot six, football player type. I guess this is all normal for him, considering he does this all day, every day. I put my forms into the large brown envelope on the table.

“Just leave it there, you can proceed to the next room,” the guard says.

The guard pushes a button and the airlock opens. I step inside. Seconds after the door is shut behind me, the gas begins filling the chamber. I lay down in the fetal position and think about my wife.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Friday, April 8, 2011

On Secular Opposition to Gay Marriage

Personally, I have no problem with gay marriage. I also have no problem with polygamy, keeping in mind that forcing women into marriages is still wrong by me (and I would of course have no problem with a woman having more than one husband… though your guess is as good as mine why she would want more than one fat, sweaty mess watching sports and nagging her for sex).

But I have some new regulations I would also like to make before I launch into my defense of gay marriage. I think dowries and bride prices should be illegal, and arranged marriage should be, if not banned, be reclassified as not marriage, but as “arranged unions.”

And if you got married in a church, I think your marriage license deserves to have an asterisk on it, since your marriage has a higher rate of divorce. I don’t want you guys making a mockery of my marriage with your huge embarrassing failures, sorry guys. I’m not saying you have to change, and I respect you as oxygen consuming meat bags, but what you “people” do is so disgusting, and I can’t stand to know you have the same privileges as me.

With that in mind, I would like to discuss a post done by The Heathen Republican entitled “The Non-Faith-Based Case Against Same-Sex Marriage.”

First off, my hats off to the amusing bit of rhetorical acrobatics in twisting gay marriage into an issue that isn’t about equal rights. Bravo, sir. I actually had to read it twice before I was able to see through it.

Basically, here’s the argument in a non-gay situation. Suppose I wrote a law making it legal to throw a stone at a black person. By the logic that “heterosexuals also don’t have the right to marry people of the same sex,” it would be legal for black people to throw stones at black people, so they have the same rights.

Like I said, quite amusing.

The next problem is the suggestion that civil unions are “an adequate substitute.” This makes sense to a conservative, but to those of us weary of conservatives and their sneaky ways, we don’t have to think about it long before we are reminded by the policy of “separate but equal.”

Here’s what’s going to happen. Not what might happen, but what will happen. These small, bumblefuck hick towns will refuse to issue same-sex civil unions, while just enough gay people will be placated into quieting down. Meanwhile, “civil unions” won’t be honored with benefits like sharing of health insurance through employment, and certain states will find ways of making life harder for those who pursue the unprivileged title of “civilly united.” Adoption will undoubtedly be tougher, and good luck getting tax breaks.

Tying gay marriage to straight marriage and having no designated difference is the only way to ensure that these unions are recognized by back-woods bigots. I’m not saying this blogger would oppress gay people, but this view is permissive of continued government over-regulation… which is strange, coming from a conservative.

On a side note, I also find it hypocritical that states are given the right to define their age of consent but not whether they can honor same-sex marriages. Again, conservatives have used federal measures (DOMA) to restrict state rights, which is supposedly against one of their basic tenants.

I also want to bring up a non-gay marriage issue that is then proposed by the blogger. Supposedly, progressives like all change. Hmm… I’m fairly sure I could eat a bowl of alphabet soup and vomit a better statement than that. For one thing, I don’t like all the change Republicans have been enacting, so much change that I feel like they hijacked this country and flew it straight into a tall symbol of our former power and success (that’s a terrorist allusion, for those who are a little slow… since I know at least one conservative is reading this).

Marriage is a malleable institution. If you want to talk about how we’re changing the traditional view of marriage, I can only imagine at what point one is arbitrarily using as the perfect definition of marriage.

Pretend I pulled off some amazing Bill & Ted time-machine assisted presentation. Here are some random and nameless people from history presenting their view of marriage in shockingly fluent modern English.

“Back in my day, marriage was a sacred agreement between a man and the woman he loved’s father.”

“Marriage is all about networking. Now our clans get along, and she’ll be sexually mature in just 6 more years.”

“Hi, my name is Oedipus…”

Hey, I said no names.

Those cultures didn’t fall apart because of their marriage structure. Rome didn’t fall because married men frequented prostitutes. Greece didn’t fall because middle aged men fondled pre-pubescent boys and then hooked them up with a nice young woman when the child grew to marrying age… and they lose their charm, I guess.

I would appreciate some creative help regarding the “consequences” of allowing a wider definition of marriage. Are you suggesting an animal/pedophile snowball effect, or is it some other logical fallacy? Let me know, I can be so unimaginative sometimes.

Why Bother Being Atheist?

I did a post on my blog entitled “What’s the Point?” that addressed two common questions that I (and I imagine most atheists) get asked from time to time by believers. But there’s one question I never get asked, but whose answer is often erroneously given by some believers. I thought I’d clear it up, at least from my perspective.

To my knowledge, I have never been asked, “Why bother being an atheist?” I have been asked why I was an atheist, in the context of what caused me to stop believing in god (usually people assume it’s something having to do with being mistreated by believers or some sort of emotional trauma, which I suppose it could be for some, but is not to case for me). However, the question is implied by the often discussed “Pascal’s Wager.”

The situation is this: atheism makes no appealing claims, provides no inherent or promised reward, and is an overall depressing idea (especially when it comes to death). These statements are generally true, and are certainly true in my view of what atheism is (and isn’t).

I often wonder how many people are “believers” only in the sense that they claim to be religious “just in case.” After all, if all it takes to spend eternity in bliss is belief in God, then maybe it’s not such a bad thing, right? I mean, what does belief cost you, and what can you possibly gain from being an atheist?

In other words, what compels people to deny the existence of gods (usually implied to be just the one Christian god) when there is no tangible benefit that can come from being atheist?

Well, besides the smug satisfaction of simply being right (which I do enjoy from time to time), and setting aside the notion that belief isn’t free (especially if you attend a church that expects your time and donations), there is really nothing drawing one towards atheism. But this doesn’t stop believers and non-believers alike from coming up with dumb justifications.

Perhaps the most irritating and common claims I see believers ascribing to atheists as the cause of their heathenism is the idea that atheists just want to screw everyone on the planet, sometimes even both genders, and that they don’t want the challenge of adopting the strict morality of [insert religious dogma here].

First off, from what I have seen from believers, you don’t have to be an atheist to shoot meth and fuck male prostitutes in hourly-rate motels. Hell, I might go so far as to say there’s more religious people doing it than atheists, since religious people (in this case, primarily Christians) feel they can do whatever they want, so long as they ask God for forgiveness.

Now, I don’t want to imply that doing meth and having gay sex is wrong. You’re free to do it, but I have a sneaking suspicion that a disturbing number of religious people who do are publicly against homosexuality and fight to legislate against the rights of same-sex couples. Hypocrisy isn’t a crime, but it is justification for you to be publicly loathed.

Then there’s the small matter of atheists being convicted of less crime than believers. Pop quiz: what is the most popular prison tattoo? Anyone? If you said “cross,” congrats.

In fact, with most Christians I have talked to, they don’t believe being Christian makes you a better person. Most will openly admit they are sinners, that they aren’t perfect, and that they struggle with their morality (and usually it’s real moral issues, not just imaginary religious ones like homosexuality or disbelief or working on the Sabbath).

So statistically speaking, and even according to most Christians, being religious does not imbue one with morality. The more extreme or fundamental believers may disagree, but most religious people think this claim is nuts.

Another annoying one, which is slightly more common, is the belief that someone who turns away from Christianity was never really a believer. This idea stems from Calvinism, particularly doctrines like the perseverance of the saints, unconditional election, and irresistible grace. These all basically state (in their own unique wordings and situations) that once someone is saved, they will always be saved, and if you turn away from God, you never really knew Him.

This denial that one can truly understand Christianity and still reject it is particularly insidious for what it implies about people who leave Christianity (“real” Christianity, of course, as Catholics and some Protestant sects don’t hold these views). Besides the refusal to believe a person leaving Christianity could have ever been a true believer who was saved prior to their departure, it also creates and promotes an “us vs. them” mentality, providing a justification for a feeling of superiority by those who believe they have God’s grace.

But again, this is another explanation that is only espoused by a percentage of Christians, and certainly not by all faiths. Islam holds similar views, and it is arguable that these ideas were borrowed by Christian theologians who had come into contact with the Quran after it was translated (poorly, I might add) into Latin and other Western European languages during and after the Renaissance.

Another extremist view, one which I don’t see much anymore (maybe because those who believe it don’t use computers), is the concept that non-believers are possessed by demons, or the devil himself. Again, this is similar to the above in that it takes the matter out of the conscious choice of the non-believer and places it into the grand scheme of supernatural mechanics. I mean, who would be insane enough to deny god except one who was under the control of pure evil, am I right?

As stated before, I think the most common reason people imagine for disbelief is that people must associate religion with some negative Earthly experience. I don’t really get this, but I understand this might be the case. I have known many people who loved a food for a long time, then one day they got sick and blamed that food they loved, even though it never made them ill before. I know many people who stopped eating something entirely after vomiting it up (sadly, it’s so rarely alcoholics), and I think the mechanism is similar in religion.

Let’s be honest, if you were molested by a church figure, no one is going to hold it against you if you leave your church. Nearly anyone can accept that as a valid reason for at least leaving a particular parish or congregation. However, believers would take offense at the rejection of an entire religion over such a thing. As stated before, religion doesn’t fix people, so in most people’s view, it would be wrong to blame a faith for the actions of one church leader who abused their position.

That’s a fair statement. If people in a religion wrong you, it doesn’t make much sense to blame the religion, anymore than being mugged by a person of a particular race would be valid justification for hating all people of that race. This is also seen among some women who are raped; they never want anything to do with men again. While I can understand these sorts of feelings, I think they are all examples of individuals whose logic and reasoning have been overpowered by their emotional prejudice.

For me, there’s only one reason to be an atheist: a lack of belief in gods.

I’m not a particularly pushy guy when it comes to atheism (at least, I don’t think I am). I don’t have much to gain by [de]converting people. I don’t earn Atheist brownie points, I can’t unsave a certain number of people and win a lunch with Richard Dawkins (I wouldn’t even want this… unless he paid), and I certainly don’t think I’m doing anyone any favor by making them an atheist.

Being an atheist can be irritating. Once, when talking to a black person who was taking particular offense at my atheism (a strange phenomena, having someone being bothered by what I think), I told them that I wouldn’t wish being atheist on them because they had their hands full already just being black. It’s sort of like how I have more sympathy for black people who are gay than I do for white people who are gay: having to deal with both has got to be a bitch.

I’m lucky I’m just atheist. I’m straight, white, financially secure, and I have no disabilities (unless you count mild asthma and heartburn, which I don’t). I basically won the birth lottery. I firmly believe that anyone born in my position could easily live a happy life. I sometimes wonder if atheism is essentially a luxury that I can afford.

If you’re even slightly off from the description of myself given above, you will almost undoubtedly have a harder time in life than I ever did. Black people are on the whole more religious than white people, and part of this is a desire or need to fit it. Minorities have to try that much harder to be accepted by society, and there is enormous pressure to adopt positions which are traditionally acceptable in order to attain this goal.

So why am I an atheist? Maybe it’s just because I can get away with it. Well… that and the fact that I have actually read the Bible, the Quran, and a whole host of other religious mythologies.
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