Sunday, July 31, 2011

Message vs. Method

I don't like to blog about myself or pretend to think that other people care what is going on with me. However, considering recent posts on the military and what I perceive to be an ongoing problem, I thought I'd share some slightly more personal thoughts.

I have spent the last few days in Indiana with my parents, who are both diagnosed with terminal illnesses. My father has lung cancer which has metastasized to his brain, and when his gall bladder was recently removed for an unrelated problem, they found cancer there as well. My mother has been living with amyloidosis for about 9 years now, was given a kidney by her sister this year in order to delay the need for constant kidney dialysis, and is basically always sick and taking dozens of meds just to stay alive.

They are very normal people, so normal that I would wonder if I was adopted if I didn't look so much like them. They are typical in that they don't discuss politics or religion, while these two things are the primary topic of conversation for me, both on my blog and when speaking with others. They would rather discuss the weather and sports.

I've been more or less told that I am intolerable to speak with. This doesn't bother me, because I have always placed my ideas ahead of personal things like family or my own reputation. I would rather say my opinion than be liked, and I would rather tell someone they are wrong than just politely smile. I have never had a shortage of people to discuss these matters with, even though I have turned many people off from wanting to ever talk to me again.

In fact, it has been my experience that my manner has pushed away the most boring and weak people in my life, while simultaneously drawing some of the most interesting and strong willed people into my closest circles. My wife is the smartest and most stubborn person I have ever met, and I am immeasurably happy that I have managed to fool her into believing I deserve to be with her. I know she could have done better, but I'm glad she didn't.

This weekend reminded me of the day me and my current wife told my parents that we were engaged. We went out to a nice seafood restaurant, and at some point in the meal we told them we have an announcement to make. My mother was the first to react to the news. I'll never forget... she turned to my then-fiancée and asked, "Are you sure?"

I think most people would have been insulted, but I knew what she meant. I am a tough pill to swallow, and my mother was just being my mother and looking out for me in the only logical way she knew how. The three little words that formed that question were loaded with the weight of having dealt with me and my antics for 18 years under her roof and several years of me half-assing my way through college. I'm fairly certain it was not intended as an insult, but rather as an act of protection for my benefit.

What she was really asking was, "My son is a very difficult person, do you know what you're getting into?"

I think you, the readers of my blog, have had to ask yourself a similar question from time to time. Is it worth it to read this blog when each line brings with it the possibility of reading a hurtful, callous, or downright cruel statement? I'm glad so many people have felt the answer to be, "Yes," and I don't take that lightly. I know that what I write is not for everyone, and sometimes seems to be for the benefit of no one but myself and my inflated ego.

Whether I'm suggesting that killing your own baby is not a crime or telling people in the military that I hope they kill themselves, there are those moments when I assume any sane and rational person would simply stop reading a post, or the entire blog altogether. I know there are also times (not very long ago, even) where the vitriol of my replies turned people off from commenting completely.

I think that maybe, and I could be wrong here, but just maybe the reason people do continue to read my posts, despite all of this, is because my message is usually sound, even when my methods are not. Maybe, but I could be wrong.

I have posted about this before, but in light of recent posts, I feel that perhaps I should explain myself for the benefit of those who are not long-time readers. This is and is not an act. In many ways, what I write is not who I am, but in a few significant ways, it is.

I learned early in my life that if you want something, you can't try to achieve it; you must try to achieve more. Out of pure necessity, I have honed what I sometimes see as an almost chilling persona that I can adopt effortlessly for the purposes of getting my way. That persona works on a very simple principle: if I want X, I forcefully demand twice X.

Using an example stated above, I argued in a post that women should be allowed to kill their children. Do I honestly think women should be allowed to kill their children? No. So why on Earth would I suggest such a stupid, ludicrous idea? Because defining the debate is more important than most people realize, and to move the line in the direction of infanticide puts the idea of banning just simple abortion completely off the table.

Republicans are masters of this technique. They demand the entire sky, when all they really wanted was the sun and the moon. When it comes time to negotiate, they hold firm to their insane demands until the last possible instant, and then they "concede" and "compromise" to receive what it is they had wanted from the very beginning. If you doubt me, look no further than the current debt ceiling "debate."

In essence, I see my techniques as being directly borrowed from the current conservative movement, while the ideas I apply them to are purely liberal. I fear my tactics have failed, and I have usually blamed this on other liberals, who I see as spineless wimps who are afraid to get their hands dirty in the trenches of what is truly a war of ideas.

It is liberals, after all, who tend to heap the most anger on me when I attempt such measures. This disgusts me, because when conservatives are confronted with the more extreme vision of their ideal, they largely embrace it without criticism. As it turns out, I cannot count on liberals being so generous with their approval.

It's not rocket science as to why this is. The kinds of people who find this method of pseudo-extremism to be attractive simply are not liberals, they are conservatives. I am forced to see my methods as being fundamentally flawed, tantamount to trying to cook a big, juicy steak to impress a vegetarian.

While it may surprise some, I have little problem in admitting when I am wrong. In fact, I am actually eager to admit when I am wrong if I realize that I am clearly incorrect. Like I imagine so many others are, I think it is more important to be correct in the end than to be correct from the beginning.

So what does all of this rambling amount to? What is the final summation?

I was wrong to suggest that all military personnel should kill themselves, though I have yet to see a comment or e-mail that adequately encapsulates why I feel this to be the case.

What is my reasoning for recanting such a comment? There are kids who should not grow up without their mom or dad. There are spouses and parents who don't deserve to lose a loved one. There are friends and co-workers who should be free from the grief of losing someone close to them. In short, I lost sight of the most important principle that I cherish in liberalism, which is the idea that we are all connected, regardless of the choices we make or the anger we may harbor.

I still think the military is fundamentally wrong. I still believe it is foolish to enlist. I still believe that America and the rest of the world would be better off without the US military industrial complex. But none of these ideas can negate the fact that every soldier is a human being worthy of my tolerance, from the medic whose sole job is saving lives to the criminals who ran Abu Ghraib.

For losing sight of that, I express regret, and I thank all of you who continue to read my blog for tolerating me. I don't seek forgiveness or approval in making this statement, I just think you all deserve an explanation for what I've written.

Thank you for reading.

Two Dudes: Chiggers

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Saturday Reflection #40

In my experience, religions tend to be like bedpans: either cold and empty, or full of shit.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

On the Response to Hating the Military

When I post things I know are offensive, I anticipate e-mail, and this time was no exception. As a rule, I don’t lift any private correspondence without permission, and frankly I don’t have anything I want to quote.

Instead, here’s the general summary, for those scoring at home: zero death threats, everyone admitted “problems” in the military, and the typical anger. So, bravo to military personnel and their wives and familie, you guys clearly beat Christians, Muslims and Jews. The level of denial and violent outrage within the military cannot compare to most religions.

Still, considering the responses I got, that’s probably the only part I really enjoyed reading.

Of all the replies I got, however, I am most grateful for Matt D.’s. I want to respond to what he said, and explain why I said what I said the way I said it. I stress “explain,” because I can’t justify my views to someone like Matt D. I make no illusions about the fact that some people will simply never see things the same way I do, but I can make an argument in a civil, reasonable fashion. Matt felt I deserve that, and I ought to return the favor.

Your broad-stroke generalizations read like the ramblings of an uninformed individual carelessly embracing their privilege.

This part sort of confused me. I’m not sure what privilege I’m embracing here. I assume the intention is the “privilege” of not having the serve in the military. Besides being “privileged” with health problems that would exclude me from service, even if there was a draft, it’s outright ridiculous to pretend the military is defending America from anything these days, but more on that later.

I have no idea what you consider justified, but I'd argue that not only does the mere presence of a strong military serve to protect the country (which should be justification enough), but the actual actions the military take (some that you wouldn't be aware of, even if you cared to educate yourself) serve this purpose, as well.

Let me throw a graph at you:


Source: http://www.mtholyoke.edu/~jephrean/classweb/In%20Context.html

That was the situation around the time that we were attacked on 9/11. The idea that a large military magically deters people from harming us is primitive at best, dangerous at worst. It is our military build-up, itself, that is arguably our biggest diplomatic liability and the reason for the US being targeted on 9/11. The US has gone crazy with its meddling military actions overseas after WWII.

The Cold War and all of its proxy battles (Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, all over South and Central America, Afghanistan… where we armed the Taliban…) served only to militarize the world and increase arm sales for the US and its allies. Our policy with Israel has caused us to fund war crime after war crime, and provided all the incentive Muslim extremists need to motivate people to bring the fight to our doorstep.

In point of fact, we would be immeasurably safer if we toned our military down, way, way down. This is a point nearly everyone seems to be in agreement with… and yet that isn’t what I hear in the public forum, because everyone with actual power on both sides of the aisle kisses the ass of the military, because if they don’t, they’ll lose their job… since the military is the sacred cow in Washington.

Your case is roughly akin to someone claiming that the police don't actually do anything to protect us, and then trying to support this by pointing to selected cases of abuse.

There is always crime, there need not always be war. ’Nuff said.

Do you have some data to back this up? Can you cite any studios about the competence or character of military members? Have you actually served in a capacity where you had the opportunity to meet and evaluate these individuals to determine if they're scum bags?

Well, they seem to pollute any place where there’s a base with crime, and I guess I just took for granted that it was common knowledge, though politically incorrect to point out, that when soldiers come back, many “have trouble acclimating” and commit quite a bit of crime. Then, there’s the startling amount of abuse within the military itself that one can find if one digs for it, most of which (with the notable exception of Abu Ghraib) is ignored by the media.

Individual soldiers are not responsible for where they are deployed, but they are responsible for what they do when they get there and come back, and certainly are responsible for making the decision to enlist.

This myopic and skewed assessment of the military is absurd. While there's certainly a case to be made that some military decisions have been empire-building in their nature, that's hardly the case for all of them.

I think I quite clearly noted that there has been no serious direct threat to the US in my lifetime or the lifetime of my parents (who were born well after WWII). I don’t count 9/11, because a non-military group attacking US citizens is not a military act, nor did it call for a war that has devastated a nation and millions of innocent people, and we damn sure had no legitimate reason to use force in Iraq either time we’ve been there.

If anyone wants to take a stab at trying to justify any war after WWII, go for it (not to say there weren’t frivolous wars before that… like WWI, for example). I’m curious if there’s any support out there for the ridiculous violence we’ve been funding wordlessly for decades.

It may interest you to know that many of us who served in the past are unhappy with many of the decisions made with respect to recent military engagements - but few of us would resort to the sort of ridiculous generalizations you've made here.

What are you resorting to? It seems like a big, fat nothing. In fact, all I see is fawning over the military, which is why I feel like the military was ripe for taking a written lashing. If you want to talk about privilege, get back to me when someone in the public eye can criticize the military without getting fired (Bill Maher is better off on HBO, I guess). How American… nothing like guilting people into silencing opposition.

While I appreciate people telling me repeatedly in comments and e-mails that I have the right to say what I want (perhaps when sensing the dilemma), don’t bother to pay me lip service about how I’m free to say what I want. Say publicly what you think is wrong with the military, because if you leave it up to people who let their frustration boil over, you get… well, what I gave.

So, not being a vile murderer means you deserve a free college education and training? How did you reach that conclusion?

Plenty of first-world nations offer full-ride scholarships to all academically capable students. We could afford to make sure that college is not a barrier of entry open solely to the wealthy and a lucky few recipients of the pittance in public funding for higher education. We could afford it… if we weren’t paying criminals in uniforms to commit crimes overseas at the price of millions of dollars a day.

Also, how do you conclude that the education compensation that one receives for actually doing a job, especially a job that may put your life at risk, qualifies as "free"?

I know it’s dangerous to be a soldier, but it’s dangerous to be a tight-rope walker, that doesn’t make them heroes or worth showering with money and benefits (like health insurance) that every American should enjoy (like they enjoy in numerous countries that, again, don’t blow their budget on blowing up brown people).

Which categories am I in? Am I scum bag, a socialized mooch, a communist killer, a violent asshole who wants to be paid to kill people, a jerk-off looking for "free" college or someone who couldn't get a real job?

I don’t know you, so that’s for you to tell me. Maybe you were just dumb enough to buy into “patriotism,” but I at least assumed that most people wanted to get something out of it, like a love for the job or the financial benefits. You’re right, though, there’s plenty of other dumb reasons for joining the military. Daddy did it, daddy and grand-daddy did it, hating Muslims, want to launch a political career… there’s plenty of flimsy and sleazy reasons.

Hopefully you'll eventually recognize that you're talking about real people who don't necessarily fit ANY of the libelous labels that you toss around.

Hopefully I addressed that above.

Of course! What a brilliant idea! I had forgotten that we lived in a Utopian wonderland where we had no need to protect ourselves and our allies from aggressors. How did I miss that change? It's so simple! Let's just get rid of the military that we clearly don't need, and everything will be peachy.

We could pull out of the conflicts we are in, close our foreign military bases, and reduce to 1/5th of what we spend and still have the most expensive and technologically advanced military in the world (the second largest is China, for comparison, which spends $114.3 billion compared to the US, which spends $687.1 billion).

Without all the collateral damage from unnecessary conflicts and crime around bases in foreign lands, I would bet the image of America would increase and we’d ultimately be safer. If not, we still have easily the largest armed forces, even if we gut the military by 80%.

Fuck you. No, seriously, that's about the only response that such a statement deserves.

Fair enough.

Every now and the, for the sake of fairness (and because some people make it necessary) we do an episode of our show on "stupid atheists". We highlight people who are engaging in particularly stupid lawsuits or who are demonstrating that they don't really understand how to think critically or rationally. We point out conspiracy theory nutjobs and hate mongers and people who are advocating particularly stupid positions - either under the guise of atheism or while linking those actions to an ostensibly atheist/rational platform.

To be fair, I associate nothing having to do with atheism with this view. Though, now that you mention it, the army is a Christian fundamentalist factory, from what I hear. Maybe that’s who I should feel sorry for, atheists in the military, or Jews or Muslims or regular Christians… who still signed up to bear arms against strangers.

I wonder which one I am: a nutjob, hate monger, or the decidedly less snappy “people who are advocating particularly stupid positions…” Can I be all three? Please?

I'd add you to the list for the next show, except that it's unlikely that your remarks here could have enough impact to make it worth mentioning.

Thanks for the almost bad publicity, I think? Maybe I’ll do a post where I remark on this comment… no, definitely, I am definitely going to post a remark to this comment.

On that note, I'll request that you remove any links to the ACA or our show. You, of course, don't have to...you're free to link to whatever you like. But it'd be nice if you did.

I’m not sure I have anything linked, but if you use full names (I’m sorry I’m not “in the know” about what ACA stands for) or point to direct places where I have linked, I will remove any content you wish that originated with you or your site. Not to steal your thunder, you aren’t the first person today to tell me to stop linking to them from my blog.

So that’s about it, my favorite comment in a while. Some good points, and I appreciate once again the occasional vague admission that there are problems. Word to the wise: there’s no point in trying to shame the shameless. The emotional responses are understood, but they don’t support… whatever case people are trying to make.

What point were people trying to make again? That I’m a douche bag? Oh… tell me something I don’t know.

You Got Some Religion On Me…

I have heard more than a few times the question asked of why atheists care about other peoples’ religion.

I find the question to be a bit flawed, because not all atheists do care. Still other atheists don’t care about how some people practice their religion, but are bothered by others. Ultimately, the question needs to be something more along the lines of, “What makes some atheists care about others peoples’ religion?”

I can’t speak for all atheists, and I don’t talk to a lot of atheists about things like this, but I can venture a guess as to some of the reasons.

For one thing, some places are literally saturated with religion. If you are confronted with religion on a daily basis and you just want to be left alone, there is certainly a chance for some hostility to build up. This shouldn’t be a hard concept to grasp, since religious people seem to get so offended just by billboards proclaiming that atheists exist.

Imagine a billboard mocking religion and saying atheists were better on every corner, with atheist meeting centers on every block, and your doorbell ringing at 8am with atheists wanting to share their disbelief in God with you. Honestly, if a religious person was experiencing this, I would understand being upset at atheists.

While those cultural annoyances are one thing, the real hot-button issue for me is when people drag their religion into politics and lobbying. Again, Christians should be able to relate. In fact, many have taken to holding a very hostile stance towards sharia law, even though the only threat of a fundamentalist takeover of the government is coming from the very same right-wing conservatives who are paranoid of Muslims infusing Islam into American law.

Both of these are linked by the fact that someone else’s religion is imposing on non-followers. I believe that people deserve not only the freedom to practice any religion they wish, but the freedom from all religions and their followers. In a culture with so many religions, I am shocked that this is not already a universally accepted right.

In fact, it’s almost enough to make me believe that religions in America have largely decided to collude. More than once, I have seen Jews sue over Christmas displays, and the final “solution” was not to get rid of any Christian iconography, but to add a menorah. Religions don’t care about having everyone fairly represented, they just want to make sure they themselves are represented.

And the approximately 1/7 people who are not religious, what are we to do? I keep hearing atheism is a religion, so where’s our tax-free political lobby?

So if it seems strange that atheists care about what religious people are doing, maybe it’s because there seems to be a concerted effort to marginalize those without a religion.

Seriously, Religion

Today, I asked myself, “What, if anything, about religion in general is wrong?” After all, I reject every religion, not just Christianity, Judaism and Islam. There are many other religions I have considered, and while early on there may have been a need to find “errors” in order to convince myself they are “wrong,” there has unconsciously been another underlying fact that has crept into my mind.

I guess what it came down to when I was a newly minted atheist is that religions are flawed. But I am flawed, and every person I ever loved is flawed, and many things I like are flawed (I love the Star Wars movies… but come on, what are the odds that Luke would crash land in just the right part of an entire planet to find Yoda within hours?). There must be something about religion, beyond its flaws, that makes me so turned off.

I guess what is so irritating is not the flaws, but the loud, obnoxious claims of the religious that there are no flaws. Look, I love my wife as much (if not more) than anyone loves God. Yet, I can see her flaws and would have no trouble pointing them out (then again, she isn’t the creator of the universe and capable of smiting me dead on a whim).

If religion didn’t take itself so seriously, I wouldn’t have trouble doing so.

Instead, religions attempt to think for you. Religion dictates; it does not listen. It claims to be an authority without demonstrating a justification for such an honor. We are supposed to accept religion because it rides the coattails of the gods, themselves merely a mechanism created by religion to justify itself.

Discussion: Murder for Money

Would you kill someone for money? What if you were assured they were a bad person, or if that person lived in another country (you know, because only Americans are people)?

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Wednesday Word: O-zone

O-zone: the region of the vagina where the G-spot is found

I Hate The Military

Sometimes, I just feel like writing a post I know will get people to stop reading my blog. I don’t do it for this purpose, rather, I generally keep thoughts like this bottled up until it gets to a point where I can’t stand it and I have to say something.

If you’re in a hurry, and you don’t want to read the whole of this post, you can basically get the idea from one simple phrase: fuck the military.

A lot of our budget problems derive from the military and it’s overly-generous compensation program. I have sat politely while I watched teachers get maligned in the media for months over their cushy government jobs and benefit packages. Teachers used to be off-limits for criticism, because they have a tough job and they really are not compensated enough for what they put up with and how important they are to our society.

On the other hand, the military does nothing for us. Zero. Zip. Zilch. Not a single fucking thing the military has done in my entire lifetime has been justified or been for the betterment of the country. In fact, I would extend that and add that nothing the military has done in my baby boomer parents’ lifetime was worth doing.

The American military doesn’t protect America, they endanger it. The military is full of a bunch of scum bags who wouldn’t get a real job, so they took a cushy government paycheck to go play GI Joe in countries where they don’t belong. I won’t even get into the fact that rape is a grossly ignored crime near US military bases around the world, but that’s a fact worth at least mentioning, because it really puts the “America’s finest” in the proper light for the rest of the discussion.

Ultimately, the military is all about rape. It’s about seeing something we want and just taking it, regardless of the feelings of others.

And don’t try feeding me any of this “patriotism” bullshit. I was 17 on 9/11. I knew kids who enlisted and went off to fight. They were idiots before 9/11, they were idiots after 9/11, and they were idiots for going off to fight Bush’s wars. I have zero sympathy for idiots. I was not a particularly bright kid, but I and many people I knew were plainly able to see through the propaganda.

The people who go off to fight are violent assholes who just want to be paid to kill people, or they’re jerk-offs who want to use the military to provide them with something the rest of us deserve for not being vile murderers, like a free college education and training.

Republicans always bitch and moan about how America is being turned into a communist country, but the main organization that is socialized in the US is the military. They get everything provided for them at tax payer expense, including medical care, despite a complete lack of need for such a large military. These socialized soldiers, military mooches, and communist killers are bleeding this country dry.

In these tough budgetary times, I think we need to gut the entire military. We don’t need a standing army that costs hundreds of billions of dollars a year, and that’s the cost when we aren’t even at war. The trillions in debt Bush and Obama have run up while playing terrorist hide-and-seek for the last 10 years is money spent on killing innocent people that could have been used to rebuild our crumbling nation.

I’m sick and tired of everyone kissing the ass of the military. If you’re in the military, here’s what I want you to do: put a bullet in your head. And do it right, so you die, because I won’t want to be paying for a damned vegetable on life-support. And if you have a problem with my views or my tone, maybe it’s because you have no clue what’s going on.

The enemy is within. The military isn’t here to protect us, it’s here to protect itself. The military fights in order to fight forever, not to bring peace. The military has no interest in bringing peace, because peace is bad for business. Militaries don’t go to war against each other, they go to war with each other, because every military in the world is allied together against the rest of us, working solely to convince peace-loving individuals that their hard-earned money should go towards a bunch of violent murderers.

This is the reality of the military: it is America’s biggest gang of thugs, and they deserve nothing from anyone except contempt.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Top Ten: States Where I Haven’t Lived, and Won’t

10. Hawaii
9. California
8. Florida
7. South Dakota
6. Ohio
5. Mississippi
4. Utah
3. Alabama
2. Arizona
1. Texas

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Saturday Reflection #39

The greatest weakness of mankind is that those who wish to do bad will scratch and claw their way towards their goal, while those who wish to do good merely meander about aimlessly with the best intentions.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Pithy News 7/22/11

Ads were pulled which depicted men apologetically offering milk to a raging wife or girlfriend. The campaign sought to promote milk’s ability to prevent PMS, but was met with angry complaints from women who are clearly lactose intolerant.

A ten-year-old girl in Phoenix was found dead in a trunk this morning after playing a game of hide and seek last night (which she clearly won). She is a shoe-in for this year’s “Anne Frank Hide-and-Seek Lifetime Achievement Award™.”

Michele Bachman is blaming high heels for what are reported to be incapacitating migraines, which she has suffered through even while giving speeches. This is strange, because during a speech of hers, I also had a migraine, and I wasn’t wearing high heels at the time (I know, because it wasn’t a Saturday).

Rupert Murdoch testified in Britain regarding the hacking scandal surrounding newspapers in his company. His defense seems airtight, as he successfully argued that he was 80 years old, and that he can’t even access his own e-mails without assistance.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Coming Rise of Fematheism

I remember being quite shocked as a new atheist to find that there are more men who are atheists than women. This goes counter to several of my basic views, most primary among them being that I see religion as often being overtly misogynistic.

For a time, I even contemplated the possibility that religious women were living with a sort of cultural Stockholm syndrome, whereby women were religious hostages that had developed empathy for their captors.

I have since come to different conclusions.

My entire understanding of the situation was initially influenced by my own experiences, namely that I met far more women who were atheists than I met men who were. Outside of the example of my father being an atheist and my mother being Catholic, I knew not a single male who was an atheist until I went to college, while I knew a handful of female atheists.

Early on, I identified atheism with feminism. Religion is a patriarchal system, both theologically and socially. Religions tend to oppose abortion and insist on women being mothers ahead of having a career. Those on the political right tend to oppose atheism, while the political left is more likely to embrace secularism, and men tend to lean right while women tend to lean left.

So imagine my surprise when the more I dug into atheism, the more it seemed that atheist men outnumbered atheist women. It appeared as though women who clung to religion were self-loathing fools, and maybe they are.

However, I think what I am seeing is the tide shifting. I think the new generations of women who were raised in the 80s and 90s will ultimately become atheists at a higher rate than men, and I think this is tied to education.

Women did not used to go to college very often, but women now outnumber men in the higher education system. Atheism tends to be highest among the educated and affluent, and I predict there will be more female atheists than male atheists within my lifetime, as the women of the previous generations die off and all that’s left are the highly educated women of the generations leading up to, including, and following my own.

I just don’t think women are inherently more religious, nor does religion have anything special to offer women. Atheism itself is growing quickly, and there’s no reason for me to believe women will be turned off by atheism.

The “incident” involving a woman feeling threatened by a man asking her out in an elevator has little or nothing to do with atheism, but rather with men and women in general. It is absurd to think that women should or do feel uncomfortable about atheism because it is currently male dominated, and to any woman who does feel that atheism is particularly unfriendly to women, I would beg you to present to me any religion that is more fundamentally accepting of the notion of treating women as equals.

The fact is, there is nothing inherently masculine about atheism. To say that men are making atheism unfriendly for women is to almost suggest that women can’t handle being in a group composed predominantly of men. This, to me, is ludicrous.

Personally, I see the whole discussion of whether women feel uncomfortable at atheist functions as largely moot. For one, I see atheist gatherings as inherently missing the entire point of atheism, but that’s neither here nor there. Most importantly, I don’t think it would matter if some (or perhaps even most) male atheists were openly hostile towards women, because women are going to be drawn to atheism regardless.

I don’t think women can be kept out of anything. I believe (and hope) that all the old boys’ clubs disintegrate. I can understand how someone might feel that atheism is male dominated, especially if one puts stock in famous atheists (of which I know of far more who are male than female). However, you can mark my words: if atheism is, in fact, male dominated, it won’t be for much longer.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Wednesday Word: Hersuasion

Hersuasion: the ability to change a woman’s mind (technically a super power)

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Top Ten: Places Other Than Iraq That I Would Have Sent The Military To Establish A New Government

[Note: This is not to say that I condone this sort of military policy.]

10. Pakistan
9. Iran
8. Zimbabwe
7. Libya
6. China
5. North Korea
4. Sudan
3. The Democratic Republic of the Congo
2. Somalia
1. Texas

Monday, July 18, 2011

Music Monday: David Bowie

Today’s Music Monday is dedicated to Heathen Republican, whose avatar is the cover of David Bowie’s 2002 album, “Heathen.”







Mythical Interview: God #3

GINX: Well, I’m here with God, again. I realize for newcomers that the title might be confusing. This isn’t an interview with “God #3,” which I guess would be the Holy Spirit, but is actually my third interview with God.

GOD: Ran out of bloggers to interview?

GINX: Willing ones, anyway.

GOD: Still, you’ve interviewed me more times than Oprah has.

GINX: That’s something.

GOD: So how are you, my son?

GINX: Again, for clarification, I’m not literally his son, that’s just familial metaphor.

GOD: Yeah, I’m not taking any credit for you. Some things are just out of my hands.

GINX: So you aren’t omnipotent?

GOD: Oh no, I could, I just don’t care.

GINX: So 90’s apathy found its way into heaven, huh?

GOD: What can I say, I had some good, long talks with Kurt Cobain before I sent him to hell.

GINX: That’s who I need to interview, Cobain’s ghost.

GOD: Come on…

GINX: What?

GOD: You trying to do a fictional interview with Kurt Cobain’s ghost would be like a Christian trying to do a fictional interview with Jesus. You’re too close to the subject matter, so you can’t step back and look at it objectively. It will inevitably come out as fawning drivel.

GINX: I dunno… I’ve seen every second of him in front of a camera, read dozens of interviews…

GOD: Exactly.

GINX: Well that’s not fair to say. I pore over the Bible, theology and mythology all the time. I haven’t really even been into Nirvana since early in college.

GOD: Well, your free will to do as you see fit, but I’m telling you what’s going to happen if you try.

GINX: I wouldn’t write a puff piece on how awesome Kurt Cobain is.

GOD: Uh huh…

GINX: I always lose control of these interviews, don’t I?

GOD: You really do, and I imagine that’s why so much time passes between each one.

GINX: Well, to be fair, I did channel you for my Prayer/Answers piece last week.

GOD: That wasn’t me.

GINX: Oh.

GOD: You had all those questions then, and you got nothing for me now that I’m actually listening?

GINX: Alright… um… well, I have some left over questions I couldn’t find witty answers to.

GOD: The tough ones… my specialty.

GINX: This first one is from… every single person in the world. The question: “Should I get married?”

GOD: Easy. Whichever you choose, you will regret it.

GINX: Are you sure you weren’t the one answering those questions before?

GOD: I think I would know. I remember that was last Tuesday, and I was really busy with all the death curses being hurled around America over the increase in price on Netflix.

GINX: I vaguely heard about that.

GOD: I swear to me, first-world problems are so gay.

GINX: Yeah…

GOD: Like, “Oh no, my laptop battery is low and the charger is all the way on the other side of the room… God damn it!” I hear that, you know.

GINX: Uh huh.

GOD: Or, “I can’t hear the TV when I’m eating crunchy food, damn you God!”

GINX: Yeah, my favorite is, “I’m the all-powerful ruler of the universe, and I bitch and moan about how people who suffer just a little bit still complain.”

GOD: Of course you would attack me for insulting first-world whiners.

GINX: Attack them all you want, but you’re God. It’s my understanding that your job is to show compassion, which is something everyone deserves. If you’re so concerned with first-world citizens who have problems like, “My hand doesn’t fit in the Pringles can,” then make them a third-world country so they can see what real suffering is.

GOD: You think I’m not doing that already?

GINX: Oh please. The economic woes of the US are the equivalent to a first-worlder crying about how a paper cut is “the worst,” while on the other side of the globe there are people digging through the rubble of their homes for the bodies of their loved ones.

GOD: Are you going to need a step-stool to get off that high horse of yours?

GINX: Whatever. Another derailed interview.

GOD: Add it to the list of problems for the privileged…

GINX: You just don’t quit.

GOD: You have any more tough questions?

GINX: I have plenty, I guess. Um… okay, what is the nature of desire?

GOD: What kind of question is that?

GINX: I don’t know. Like I said, these were the tough ones I couldn’t find an answer to.

GOD: That’s a stupid question, and you’re stupid for asking it.

GINX: Charming.

GOD: Ask another.

GINX: You have nothing to say about desire?

GOD: What is there to say? The gods desire for nothing, and godlike people desire for very little. Most people obey their desires like a slave obeys a master. I guess that is as close to “the nature of desire” as I can get, though who cares about the “nature” of something. Who are you, Aristotle?

GINX: It’s just a question, poorly worded.

GOD: Nature is not an ideal or something set in stone, but is instead like a stream, always flowing and never the same, shaping the landscape and fueling life, not only actually in it, but also outside of it.

GINX: Okay. Same type of thing. I don’t want to ask “what is the nature of education,” but what do you have to say about education?

GOD: For the young, education is discipline. For the old, it is fond memories. For the poor, it is power. For the rich, it is decoration.

GINX: Interesting answer.

GOD: I thought so.

GINX: What is the most beautiful thing in the world?

GOD: I know what you would say.

GINX: I asked you, though.

GOD: I would say… the most beautiful thing in the world is the freedom that can never be taken away, the freedom of thought.

GINX: I agree.

GOD: No, you don’t.

GINX: Okay, then what do I think is the most beautiful thing in the world?

GOD: You don’t want me to say.

GINX: Is it tits?

GOD: I dunno, Bret, it’s your opinion.

GINX: It is, isn’t it.

GOD: Yeah.

GINX: I am one class act.

GOD: Your parents must be proud.

GINX: Alright, um… what would you say is the worst prayer you hear all the time?

GOD: Ah, another easy one. That comes from all the people who pray for a boy, without ever bothering to pray for what sort of man he will become. Common mistake, and one which I have a lot of fun with.

GINX: What would be a good prayer, then, in your opinion?

GOD: “Dear God, grant me the wisdom to endure all of life’s fortunes and blessings with humility and grace.”

GINX: You really hate rich people, huh?

GOD: I do. I’m surprised we don’t get along.

GINX: Don’t we?

GOD: You don’t believe in me or worship me.

GINX: Maybe because the religions you start are horrible.

GOD: So start your own religion.

GINX: Absolutely no interest.

GOD: Oh come on. I bet we could spitball here and get a great religion going in minutes.

GINX: No, no, no.

GOD: Well, obviously dogs need to play a major role in this, because your symbol is a dog.

GINX: My symbol is not a dog, my blogger image is a dog.

GOD: Whatever, same difference. I could use dogs. I have a flock of stupid, useless sheep who are always being threatened by wolves. If I could just take some of those wolves, domesticate them, and turn them into sheepdogs, I would have a flock I could be quite proud of, because dogs are like wolves who have the flock’s interests at heart.

GINX: Sounds almost like a wolf in sheep’s clothing, to me. Besides, this is not happening. I want nothing to do with a new religion. There’s too many, already.

GOD: Pish posh, hogwash, this is golden. We could apply for tax exempt status for you and I could have you recruit atheists to be “Atheists for Jesus.”

GINX: I think I would sooner dive into a pool of double-edged razor blades.

GOD: Says the atheist who talks to God and writes it down. Come on, you’re already halfway there. Just make it official.

GINX: Nope.

GOD: Come on. You wouldn’t like what I do to people who refuse to obey me.

GINX: Honestly, I would rather be swallowed by a whale –

GOD: Large fish.

GINX: Right. I would rather be swallowed by a large fish than start a religion and try to get people to join.

GOD: Okay… I knew you would say that, though. So, millions of years ago –

GINX: You mean thousands of years ago?

GOD: I know what I fucking said, idiot. Millions of years ago, I put it into peoples’ heads that they want to be in something exclusive that they can’t get into.

GINX: I don’t follow.

GOD: All I have to do is say it’s so, that you have a religion, and people will want to join it, not in spite of you not asking them to join, but because you didn’t ask them.

GINX: Wait a second… you think the same principle that made Studio 54 popular will make a religion I form popular?

GOD: First of all, I formed it. You said you wanted nothing to do with it, so don’t go claiming ownership now that it’s done and awesome. Secondly… Studio 54? You’re only 27 years old, for my sake. You could have gone with Google + or iPhones or something like that.

GINX: I’m not really familiar with those.

GOD: You really live in the past. Are you sure you wouldn’t like to start a religion?

GINX: I have zero interest in forming a cult, thanks.

GOD: Suit yourself. You can get a lot of under-aged pussy that way.

GINX: That’s lovely.

GOD: I’m just saying.

GINX: Is that how you get prophets to do your bidding, by dangling jailbait in front of them?

GOD: It can’t hurt.

GINX: Yeah, maybe it won’t hurt the potential prophet, but what about the young girls? That’s pretty disgusting.

GOD: Young women love men with power.

GINX: Is that your doing?

GOD: Whose else would it be?

GINX: So, why don’t young men fall in love with women with power?

GOD: They do, what do you think the Oedipus complex is?

GINX: The sick ramblings of a 19th century German?

GOD: Possibly, or just the astute observation that men seek out women who fulfill the roles their mother played in their life.

GINX: I don’t think a wife should be her husband’s mother. That’s a twisted way of looking at love and relationships, as if love is some sort of method for fulfilling our basic needs.

GOD: What is love if not the fulfillment of basic needs?

GINX: I guess I just believe in love for love’s sake, not as a means to gaining something.

GOD: That’s pretty noble for someone with a breast fetish.

GINX: I would have said it was downright godlike of me to not desire much from a woman beyond her breasts.

GOD: But you don’t desire very little, you desire very big.

GINX: Regardless, I would never be a sheepdog that looks after a flock. I am more of a hound, with a loud bark and a nose for sniffing out the truth from bullshit.

GOD: I can’t see you as a hound. You’re more of a pit bull, since you have this scary image because you like to fight, but you’re mostly just playful.

GINX: I’m sure everyone wants to know what result I would get if I took the “Which dog are you?” quiz, but I should wrap this up.

GOD: No more questions? I feel like we covered so little ground today.

GINX: I guess I could ask a few more. In your little “sheep/wolf” metaphor, who are the wolves?

GOD: I’m not telling.

GINX: Are the wolves the rich?

GOD: No, the rich are also sheep, they just have golden fleece.

GINX: Well, I’m definitely not interested in your religion now.

GOD: Why, because I didn’t demonize the wealthy enough for your taste?

GINX: Well, who are the wolves?

GOD: Did it ever occur to you that the sheep and the wolves are within each person?

GINX: No, but hearing that doesn’t make the whole thing any deeper or more meaningful.

GOD: Suit yourself.

GINX: You know, I don’t get you. First you say that gods are gods because they desire for nothing, but it seems completely within your power to abate all of humanity’s needs. You could even fulfill my desire for knowledge in this instance, but you would rather leave me in the dark to misinterpret than to shine a light on the truth. If there is any flaw in mankind, didn’t you put it there to begin with?

GOD: What would you have me do?

GINX: Why not start by getting rid of the most basic desire, hunger? You gave humanity a way of fulfilling our sexual desires using only our hands, yet left us to starve in times of difficulty. Can you imagine the suffering that could be “wiped out,” so to speak, if we could quiet a rumbling belly just by rubbing it for a while?

GOD: You’re faulting me for not giving people the means of jacking off their stomachs?

GINX: Literally, yes, but in the larger sense, why have you shackled people to want?

GOD: Do you think I’m happy?

GINX: What?

GOD: Do you think I am happy?

GINX: I wouldn’t know.

GOD: I’m not happy. I’m not sad. I’m not anything. I want for nothing and I enjoy even less. All this want that you are condemning is the very thing that gives humanity the capacity to be more than content. You can experience a full range of joy, from amusement to bliss. Ultimately, those who want for nothing end up having nothing.

GINX: I’m still not sold.

GOD: That isn’t my problem. Neither is the fact that people on Earth throw away enough food each day to feed everyone who is starving. You people just lack the desire for justice, because it is eclipsed by your desire for greed and plenty. You would rather refrigerators and grocery stores be full than third world bellies.

GINX: And there’s nothing you can do?

GOD: Are you kidding me? What more can I do? I sent Jesus and Karl Marx bearing the message of caring for your neighbor, but nothing seems to get you people to share. What would you do?

GINX: What would I do if I was God and I wanted people to share?”

GOD: Yes.

GINX: I would punish selfishness.

GOD: I already do.

GINX: But I mean in life, not with Hell.

GOD: I do punish selfish people in this life.

GINX: How do you punish them?

GOD: I give them everything they ask for.

GINX: What?

GOD: There is no greater curse than to have your prayer answered.

GINX: If only I could be struck with such an affliction…

GOD: Trust me. If you want to know what I think of wealth, look at who I have given it to. You are much better off without it.

GINX: I don’t wish to be rich, anyway. I would rather be famous, because you can’t tax fame.

GOD: I know that deep down, you want to be a philosopher.

GINX: That’s true, and yet I am a fool who knows nothing.

GOD: See, I’ve already made you one.

GINX: Great. Okay, we should actually end this, because this has gone onto the 10th page. That is stretching the limits of internet attention spans.

GOD: Okay, well, it was nice talking to you again.

GINX: Always a pleasure.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Saturday Reflection #38

I would love to be a philosopher, but there is no money in it. I would make more money begging than being a philosopher. People give money to beggars because they can relate to someone who is homeless and destitute, since that could happen to any of us, especially the way things are going these days. No one worries that one morning they’ll wake up and be a philosopher.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Why Don’t They Try Praying The Stupid Away?

The old “pray the gay away” ideology is back in the news, thanks to Michele Bachman and her husband (who is so deep in the closet, he is battling a White Witch with Aslan in Narnia). I won’t be focusing on Bachman with this post, however, because I like to write about things that will be timeless, not flavors of the month.

This is not to say I imagine that Christians attempting to turn gay people straight will be a timeless theme, but it is a true symptom of the dysfunctional times we live in. But then again, so is Bachman.

At any rate, I will never understand the concept of praying the gay away. For one thing, I tried to basically pray my straightness away and it failed.

Let’s face it, it kind of sucks being a straight white male. Yeah, I’m an atheist, but that just isn’t outsider enough to get me an in with the publishing world. As it is, I’m just another angry white guy. Now, if I was a snarky gay guy, I am confident I could get somewhere in the writing world (or just fall back on writing plays).

But alas, despite my best efforts to get turned on by cock, I find myself drawn back to tits time and again. I’m just not attracted to guys, unless they have an amazing rack.

I think it’s basically impossible to have a conscious influence on what turns a person on. Sure, you could hook someone up to a machine and shock them if they get aroused at “inappropriate” pictures, and that has been done with gay people. But those guys didn’t turn straight, they just get turned on by being electrically shocked now.

I feel like attraction can expand, but it can’t contract. I imagine if you are attracted to something now, you will probably always be attracted to it. Over time, exposure to other things may cause you to be turned on by other things as well, but don’t we ultimately have all the old favorites to fall back on? Who hasn’t rubbed one out to the bra section of the Kohl’s catalogue just out of sheer pre-internet nostalgia?

Yet, many Christians willingly subject themselves to de-gayification, while others are forced into it. I don’t know how these programs are formed, because they have nothing to go on here. They are completely winging it, and it’s amazing that they can get people to trust them when these programs clearly have no idea what they’re doing.

For one thing, I can tell you up front: it’s not a good idea to concentrate gay people in one place if you don’t want them having sex. Some kids raised in rural areas come out to their parents and get sent off to be “corrected,” and in the process are exposed to more gay guys than they’ve ever met before in their life. This is tantamount to holding a diabetes support group in a candy store.

I’m just saying, if I was going to set about trying to get a gay guy to have sex with a woman, I wouldn’t surround him with gay guys, I would keep him in a room with a bunch of fag hags and wine.

Another strange phenomenon is how many of the people who run these operations are “formerly” gay. Again, I question the logic here, because why would you trust a guy who claims he prayed his gay away when he opens a business aimed exclusively at servicing gay people?

Trying to explain any of this to a religious person who sees nothing wrong with trying to “cure” homosexuality can be frustrating. First of all, they think prayer will just magically work, so they would write off all of the points I just made as denying the power of Christ. Secondly, trying to convey how offensive this is to gay people is tough. There is no adequate comparison. To suggest it is similar to sending a kid off to “de-religion” camp because I think religion is a disease doesn’t really do the situation justice, but it’s as close as I can get.

Ultimately, parents need to learn that they’re better off if they back off on matters like this. There is nothing more damaging than forcing something on a kid, because even if they might have one day come around to it, shoving your preference down their throat is liable to turn them off to what you want them to do, even to the point of causing neurosis.

And in the end, people are going to be who they’re going to be. For people claiming to be Christians, a group that lives by the mantra that “everyone is a sinner,” a strange amount of significance has been put on the sin of homosexuality.

Suppose it is a sin, a homosexual hurts no one but themselves and willing people. Why do we not have camps to send people off to for lying, or stealing, or bullying, or gossiping, or inhospitality? You know, stuff that actually affects other people. For some reason, making sure no one is butt-fucking behind closed doors is a major priority for some people.

And I can think of only one reason, itself a sin: that of coveting.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Who Can Beat Obama?

I chatted very briefly with a conservative buddy of mine online today about the Republican nominees, and he made the comment that I don’t think anyone could beat Obama.

Always up for a challenge I thought for a minute, and the best I could come up with was Colin Powell. Now, before you criticize, consider my limitations: I had to pick a conservative and I had to pick someone who could beat Obama, not someone I wanted to be president or someone conservatives want to be president.

On the whole, I think Powell is electable, especially among Republicans. The only criticism I am aware of that might stick to him is his involvement in the Bush administration and the selling of the Iraq war, and what do Republicans care about that?

While I think that is a solid choice, I think the key would be the running mate. What is the one demographic that Republicans could capture from the Democrats, and who is the one candidate to do it? That demographic is the young, and the candidate is Ron Paul.

I’m not a huge fan of Paul, myself. His pro-life stance is enough to make me not even consider supporting him. However, the way he markets himself is unlike other Republicans.

Ron Paul doesn’t speak publicly about the fact that he has introduced bills that extend personhood to fetuses of any age, he focuses on legalizing pot and other drugs. He’s also got an entertaining economic narrative, with a convenient boogey-man to demonize in “The Fed,” and a simplistic, Libertarian brand of laissez-faire capitalism that appeals to people who reflexively blame the government for everything.

Do the frat boys who fawn over Ron Paul realize that Paul has been a House Representative for 30 years and has little or nothing to show for it? Or, that he’s basically just part of the same system as all the other Republicans? The answer is a very slurred, “No way, bro.”

The only thing is, I don’t think I would do this if I was Colin Powell. I mean honestly, would you want your life to be the only thing standing in the way of a Ron Paul presidency? I’ve talked to a lot of Ron Paul supporters… that is a dangerous position to be in.

Still, focusing just on Powell himself, he has a lot to offer Republicans in the election. Obviously, he’s black, but I think his military record would probably attract more actual voters than his race (though race would probably be what the media focuses on). He contrasts well with Obama in a 1-on-1 showdown, because Powell comes off looking like the more experienced statesman, and his military experience paints the right kind of image at a time when we have troops deployed and multiple operations underway.

What do you guys think? What pairing do you think could beat Obama in 2012?

Which God Do Monotheists Believe In?

One thing that I find difficult to convey to some theists is the disconnect between God and religion.

Just as an example, it’s quite common when talking/discussing/debating/arguing with a Christian about the nature of God to be confronted with a two-faced deity. As an atheist who has read the Bible, I am quite familiar with what it has to say on the matter. I feel comfortable saying that the God described in the Bible does not exist. I can say this with as much certainty as I can say that the Earth orbits the Sun, in that the evidence is quite clear, even though I lack personal, first-hand observational proof.

While the Bible hasn’t had anything added to it in quite some time, Christian theology didn’t get the memo.

Since the days of an anthropomorphic deity waltzing through a garden, flooding the Earth to start over, and sending himself as his son to be tortured, Christian theology has advanced. The result of all of this thought put into Christian theology is a picture of a divine being that is a dramatic departure from the Biblical YHWH.

Now, I could bore you with a bunch of examples where Christian theology oversteps its bounds and goes beyond Biblical revelation. Hell, the whole Catholic Church is one big artificial Christian theology. Instead, I want to boil down the whole of Christian theology to one trite little statement of pseudo-intellectualism.

Christians tend to go back in time for their proof (since God isn’t anywhere in the near present… you know, since around the time we created reliable recording equipment). The modern Christian theology boils down to this fallacy: that there had to be some sort of beginning, and that whatever that beginning was shall be defined (ipso facto) as “God.” Of course, none of this takes into account the possibility that there is no beginning.

“But Bret, of course there had to be some sort of beginning.”

Not really. If we’re just performing exercises in thought experiment, I can imagine a universe that is uncreated and unending, that progresses through to it’s “end,” and then begins all over again (the same or different). Or, even cooler, all of existence may begin to go backwards in time through everything that just happened all the way to the “beginning,” where it will start again. In this model, whose to say we’re not moving back towards the beginning right now? It would explain why everything seems so backwards all of the time. It would also explain déjà vu.

I like the idea of living this all over again in reverse, because that means that in the future, I will get to come back to life as an older me and live my life backwards. I would have so much to look forward to, like all the sex and drugs I had in college and high school, or the happy childhood that will follow that. Sure, it will suck to die by being pushed into your mom’s vagina, but I was born via c-section, so it won’t be too bad for me.

I derailed the thought process there a bit, but I think you see what I mean.

But suppose time is linear, not cyclical. What gives anyone the idea that they can just arbitrarily call the initial cause of everything “God?” I mean honestly, of all the words in all the languages on the planet, why would one choose “God” in the context of a philosophical thought experiment regarding the first cause? Is a word so loaded with social and emotional connotations really the best choice when simply denoting a first cause?

But let’s just say you’re really attached to the label “God” for the spark that caused the universe to be created. What do you do if that spark no longer exists? What if it was here a moment and gone the next? Isn’t that a little insulting to the overall idea of “God?”

Because that’s what we’re talking about, here. Don’t forget, this argument for an abstract physics concept being named “God” is being made by someone who also believes in the Genesis story of creation to some degree, even if just as a metaphor. These people convince themselves that the Bible is “poetry,” thereby excusing the glaring inaccuracies. They try to reconcile the Bible with the creation of the universe by imagining that the “six days of creation” are tremendously long periods of time… but it doesn’t occur to them that what “created” the universe probably only had an effect for the briefest of instances.

If you wish to syncretize the scientific account of how the universe came about with the Biblical account of creation, the six days would not be very long. Instead, these “six days” must be extremely short, the briefest of moments, a fraction of a split second.

During that moment, the physical blueprint for the entire universe would have had to have been laid out and put into motion like a vast chemical reaction which spawned the cosmos over the proceeding billions of years, during which time the Sun and the Earth were formed, the Earth was pelted with water-bearing comets, and simple life developed and evolved with increasing complexity, until one being was able to put chalk to slate and calculate that God was nothing but a spark that set off a massive explosion.

Or, you can come to grips with the notion that the Bible is little more than a collection of fairy tales from an unfortunate desert culture lucky enough to write them down.

So do me a favor, if you’re religious: read your holy books. Read them daily, and ask yourself if the God in that book is actually the same abstract, complex philosophical concept that theologians have developed as a far more plausible (though still rather flawed) substitute. And if you’re a monotheist, I guess you have to ask yourself: which one do you believe in?

Wednesday Word: Equalitarian

Equalitarian: someone who treats everyone equally

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Intercepted Prayers, and God’s Answers

Why can’t gay people get married?

I figured they had a hard enough time being gay.

Can you please help me find a job so I can take care of my family?

No.

What is the best thing I can do today?

What you wanted to do yesterday.

Where the hell is that pizza I ordered?

Getting cold in the delivery driver’s car as he cruises around smoking pot.

Why did you make pre-teen girls so hot?

I think a better question is, why did I make men such perverts?

How can I find my true love?

By not looking.

Is time travel possible?

You can’t travel back in time, but you can make time basically stand still by listening to someone read poetry.

Which religion is right?

None of them.

Is global warming real?

Oh, sorry about that, I turned the heat up. I’m just really old, and you know how cold we get.

If you should love your neighbor, why do you hate Satan?

He’s not my neighbor. Why do you think we built the pearly gates? To keep out Jehovah’s Witnesses?

Do you ever sleep?

I’m asleep right now, and your reality is my dream. Better hope I don’t wake up.

What is a good question to ask you?

Usually, the best questions for me are those that require no reply.

Are you a boy or a girl?

Neither, I’m all grown up.

Is there such a thing as fate?

No, but I knew you were going to ask that.

Are you a Republican or a Democrat?

Neither. I’m Israeli, not American.

What do you do when you get bored?

Check in on Japan.

Why do you want to be worshiped?

For the same reason you want to believe I’m watching everything you do. It’s nice to get attention.

Was Casey Anthony guilty?

Well… she wasn’t found guilty…

Do you mind if I smoke?

Why not? Then you can ask me in person sooner.

Did Hitler get into Heaven?

Just long enough to see there are Jews here.

What are you wearing?

That’ll cost you $6.99 for the first minute and $2.99 for each additional minute.

What is the worst sin?

Not believing in me, followed closely by people who talk on their cell phones in theaters.

What’s the easiest way to convert someone to the truth?

Look at the facts and change your mind.

Do you like the name “God?”

It suits me.

Whose side were you on during the American Civil War?

Death’s, and Death always wins in a war.

Did you write the laws of physics?

No, though I was closely involved in the revision process.

What is the meaning of life?

Oh look at the time…

Top Ten: Things I Know Little Or Nothing About

10. Cars
9. Architecture
8. The Mafia… and I’m stickin’ to that story
7. Fashion
6. Agriculture
5. Dancing
4. Antiques
3. Rugby/Cricket (they’re the same, right?)
2. Asian History
1. Wine

Monday, July 11, 2011

Music Monday: Oasis

I was in high school from 1998-2002, and I had a few acquaintances whose favorite band was Oasis (mostly kids who wished they were British). I always liked Oasis, but I had gotten kind of burned out on how often some people I knew played their music. After almost 10 years, however, it’s safe to say I can easily enjoy their stuff again.

I’m even willing to forgive them for saying they were bigger than the Beatles, because by way of John Lennon’s comments, that means that Oasis thinks they’re bigger than Jesus. First time in a while I’ve managed to tie Music Monday into atheism… even loosely.







Sunday, July 10, 2011

What the Casey Anthony Verdict’s Reaction Says About America

I am going to make a lot of generalizations in this post, and I make them with the assumption that the reader acknowledges that I am not implying absolutes, only trends.

I get the impression that America is pissed off at Casey Anthony.


But frankly, I’m not interested in discussing the verdict itself or even how I feel about it. If you’re curious, I don’t think she killed her daughter, though I see how it’s certainly a possibility, and I’m a little upset that she wasn’t found guilty of hiding and disposing of a body (as I feel the evidence is overwhelming that she did at least this much).

Instead of that, I’m more interested in discussing what this means about America. After the Simpson trial in the 90’s, it was an interesting view into the American psyche. You had some black people rejoicing, some white people nodding in approval, and outraged people of every sort. There were people saying he got off for being black, for being famous, for being rich, because the police department was racist… there was so much involved.

I imagine a superficial liberal with real insight would have been particularly conflicted. Do you side with the him because he’s black, or against him because he’s rich? And likewise if you’re conservative: do you support him because he’s rich, or condemn him because he’s black?

Of course, these amusing political caricatures don’t take the trial itself into the account, let alone the events leading up to it. Most of the people I know who were old enough to remember OJ speeding away in the white Bronco just assumed from that moment he was guilty. Innocent men don’t run, after all. Even those who praise the verdict often admit he probably killed his wife and Ron Goldman.

In the end, however, I found the OJ trial too divisive, while this recent Anthony trial has had an essentially unifying effect on the nation.

And what an enemy to rally against: a young, white party-girl. It’s like the nation was able to put Paris Hilton or Britney Spears on trial.

I have looked and I have found some, but I see very little support for Casey Anthony. Primarily, I see any support for the verdict in the form of basically defending the system itself or attempting to delve into the ramifications of “reasonable doubt,” but not a lot of people claiming Casey Anthony was innocent. In fact, many of these articles which don’t outright condemn the verdict make the point that there is a difference between “not guilty” and “innocent,” a not-so-subtle swipe at Anthony.

I haven’t seen young people, women, or white people speaking out in support of Casey Anthony. I don’t see liberal black people feeling shamed into defending her because she’s white. I don’t see really anyone whose opinion carries any weight even support Casey Anthony, and only a very sparse and halfhearted defense mounted by a few cynics and skeptics in the blogosphere.

It’s interesting that in these polarizing times, we can still pretty much all come together to burn a witch.

Two Dudes: Twice

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Demystifying The Atheist Historical Narrative

In discussing feminism these past couple days, I have encountered a general idea time and again: the historical narrative.

I believe this to be an important concept to grasp. In order to deal with bias among ideologies, one must first be able to spot bias. This is, I believe, what historical narratives are all about.

Human beings are complex creatures, though I believe we are not too complex to be understood. One problem we face, however, is that our means of acquiring knowledge really relies on simple comparisons. To put it plainly, many factors affect human behavior, and yet it is only easy for us to analyze one factor at a time.

This is a basic problem faced in all of science. There can only be one variable in an experiment, otherwise there is no way of knowing which variable being tested for was the cause of a different result.

Just to use the familiar feminist example, there may be a tendency among feminists to over-emphasize gender when analyzing historical events, because they are looking specifically at gender from the very outset.

In reality, Sociology has moved well beyond this. In many ways, Sociology is the most complex science. The complexity of science as derived from the simplicity of math can be seen to go from math to physics, from physics to chemistry, from chemistry to biology, and from biology to sociology. At each jump, the order of complexity increases, and so does our uncertainty.

Sociology, then, can be seen as not only one of the most complex of the sciences, but also as one of the least suited to produce concrete and broad-sweeping theories. How an atom behaves is regular enough to have near certainty in theoretical description and evaluation. How an animal behaves may be a bit erratic, though is largely formulaic. Human beings, while we wish to imagine ourselves as unique and irreplaceable little snowflakes, are actually very predictable.

Still, sociologists are careful to point out that unlike a chemist, who can tell you precisely how a particular substance will act when mixed with another, sociologists can only provide the data which demonstrates how frequently something will happen under certain conditions.

It should be noted that in actuality, atoms are a lot like people. They are not as predictable as elementary physics and chemistry would have the student believe. Solutions are not static, as molecules constantly combine and separate at the atomic level, even when the solution is said to be, for all intents and purposes, at equilibrium. Chemical reactions (particularly those involving combustion) do not only create the products that it appears they should on paper.

While I’m no feminist history buff, I am an atheist history buff. However, I rarely see much talk of the atheist historical narrative, even though there clearly is one.

In fact, Sociologists and Anthropologists have a name to it: conflict theory. The idea became particularly popular during the Darwinian revolution, when atheists and agnostics sought to paint a picture of religion as standing in the way of science at every turn throughout history, a claim which is not true, and a claim which motivated some to lie.

Take, for example, the Flat Earth myth. No, not the myth that the Earth is flat, but rather the myth that Medieval Europeans believed the Earth was flat.

There is a slight problem in analyzing this, because we have no way of knowing what the common person knew on the matter. However, what we do know for certain is what scholars left for us to read, and it clearly paints the picture of a continent of intellectuals within the Church that not only understood that the Earth was round, but who had fairly accurate calculations of its circumference.

Examples like this abound, which is a shame. Misinformed grade-school teachers to this day unwittingly spread the lie that Columbus was warned he would sail off the edge of the globe, thanks to atheist/agnostic propagandists of the 19th century.

This is such a shame, because there is more than enough real history of the Church suppressing science, but it is also a shame for another reason. Namely: it is thanks to religion that we have science as we know it today.

In fact, science takes an interesting journey through the annals of religious history…

There was a great deal of development before him, but Aristotle should be credited with being the most influential scientist of the ancient world. A student of Plato, the teacher of Alexander the Great, and a man who is renowned for being a genius, despite never bothering to open a woman’s mouth and bother to actually count how many teeth she had. Had he, he might not have asserted that woman had fewer teeth than men.

You can see one of the main problems with ancient science: a severe lack of rigorous empiricism. However, there was still some. The Ancients did not generally dissect human cadavers (it happened for a brief time in Egypt), but Aristotle himself worked from Barbary ape anatomy. What’s more, thanks to the conquests of Alexander, Aristotle was given access to many plants and animals from far flung regions of Asia and Africa.

But what Aristotle did that was so important, in my view, was to create the Lyceum, a school that he and his later students would maintain, in parallel with Plato’s Academy and other various schools that formed around pagan philosophers. This all ended under the Christian emperors, who shuttered the schools, as well as gladiatorial matches and the public baths. Well, one out of the three wasn’t a bad idea, I give them that. After this, only monks and other church officials tended to receive formal education.

Oddly enough, pagan science might have been largely lost forever, had Greek culture not spread to the Middle East. While the early Christians fought amongst themselves in Europe and burned the heretical scrolls of the pre-Christian philosophers/scientists, the Byzantine Empire continued to flourish well into the rise of Islam.

While it may be hard to imagine, Islam was an important liberalizing force in the region. Muslim caliphates supported science and the arts (though not those depicting people, so primarily architecture). Pre-Muslim writings were not destroyed outright under the Muslims… unless they were blatantly anti-Muslim. This is why most of works of skeptics (like Epicurus or Diogenes of Sinope) are gone: they were destroyed in both Europe and the Middle East and survived only in fragments quoted by others.

Still, Muslims ought to be credited with preserving much of what we know of Western Civilization’s history after Europe had thrown the baby out with the bathwater with the rise of the Jesus cult, and Muslims were the last culture with access to the Library of Alexandria before its destruction.

Muslims not only preserved the science of the ancient world, they also developed it further. Thanks in no small part to their contact with the Far East, Muslim alchemists (or al-chemists) were some of the top minds of their time, rivaled only perhaps by Taoist monk/scientists. Taoists in China developed gunpowder before the 10th century and had begun using it in the form of rockets, bombs, flamethrowers, and even medicine, before developing the first guns.

Meanwhile, in what is modern day Iran, a Persian called Ibn Sina (Avicenna in Latin) was developing and refining what would become modern chemistry, as well as writing treatises on physics, astronomy, math, logic, poetry, psychology, and Islamic theology. He even found time to teach in Muslims schools, which flourished throughout the Middle East.

It was exposure to the Muslim world that brought Europe back in touch with much of its own rich scientific heritage. Late medieval Europe (especially from the 12th century until the Renaissance) became a hotbed of “new” ideas rediscovered, thanks to the Crusades and Muslim conquest of the Iberian Peninsula and Sicily.

From here, it’s just a matter of time before gunpowder technology diffuses to the Middle East, where Muslims acquire it and begin implementing it against Europeans, who in turn acquire and adopt the technology. Oddly, here is another real case where Christianity stood in the way of technology.

Along with the crossbow, gunpowder was shunned by many Church officials, who said it was cowardly. To understand the argument, one had to imagine a gallant knight, decked out in full armor, trained since birth… cut down by a peasant with a crossbow or gun. This was a severe threat to the established methods of war in Europe, and there was a push to ban the weapons as “un-Christian” for some time before pragmatism took over.

The Church also suppressed Copernicus for the blasphemy of placing the Earth anywhere but at the center of the universe. However, science was more or less encouraged by the church. By now, the search for the philosopher’s stone, a mythical substance that could turn something worthless like lead into gold and a common obsession among Muslim alchemists, had put into the minds of many the idea that something good might come from all this study and experimentation.

Newton was an avid alchemist. He kept the papacy updated on his developments that would come to form the classical mechanics of physics, and he dedicated many of his discoveries to the church. He also sought hidden messages in the Bible, and had some very unusual views on Christianity.

In many ways, religion and science have had a rocky relationship, but it has primarily been one of mutual support. It was not truly until the 19th century (with some hints of it in the 1700s) that science ceased to be subservient to religion. It was at this time that science truly expressed itself as an independent authority, no longer needing to take its cues from religion.

It was at this point that the atheist narrative came about, in a climate of religious fervor over Darwin’s theory of evolution, and then over the “Big Bang” theory. In an ardent search for historical examples where religion stifled science, atheists and agnostics painted religion as categorically opposed to scientific research… despite the facts.

It didn’t end there, either. While I respect George Carlin, he is arguably the source for one of the most persistent atheist fallacies: the idea that religion is the cause of all or most wars. Religion is sometimes even blamed for most of the suffering and problems in the world.

These claims simply aren’t true. Nationalism, greed, political rhetoric, social movements, charismatic leaders… these all cause wars and atrocities throughout history, with sometimes little or no religious factor involved. What causes wars and mass-scale suffering is not religion, but obedience, regardless of whether it’s to a Pope or the leader of the Party.

Ultimately, I value truth more than I value atheism, and I despise lies more than I despise religion. And that’s that.

Saturday Reflection #37

Some fools believe everything they were told as children, while other fools ignore it all.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Feminism: The Lightning Rod of Male Insecurity

When formulating my views, I have consciously attempted to take the route of Descartes: to forget or ignore (as best I can) all preconceptions, and begin from scratch. I even have my own proof for the existence of the self:

Incognito ergo sum

Roughly translated (remember, it’s so much more elegant and deep in Latin): I wear disguises, therefore I am. In other words: in order to pretend, there must be a pretender.

So, that’s where I’m coming from. A blank slate, and one which is a little warped, at that.

When I see people put so much stock in something ridiculous, I just don’t feel sympathy for them when their assumptions are challenged. Lately, it has been brought to my attention how insecure some men are, and it’s all thanks to feminism.

There is quite a bit of talk of masculinity among men seeking to explain the horrors of feminism. What does it mean to be a man?

I’ve seen a lot of definitions, but I am compelled to note the immortal words spoken by Jeff Bridges in “The Big Lebowski.” When asked, “What makes a man? ... is it doing the right thing, no matter the cost?” the Dude replied, “Mmm, that and a pair of testicles.”

This is not to say that someone like Lance Armstrong is half a man. Rather, it is to say that what fundamentally makes a man is determined by nature, not nurture. The whole nurture bit is all that bullshit hammered into our heads by parents, religion, art, and whatever the hell Disney movies are.

For the sake of simplicity, I’ll ignore the presence of various mutations that result due to additional or missing sex chromosomes, and I will also just gloss over transsexuals by saying that I acknowledge they feel like the gender with which they identify naturally. For the purposes of this discussion, I will only be dealing with simple male and female gender, though I feel obliged to acknowledge additional complexity.

I hesitate to use this word, because I don’t see masculinity as a religion (because, you know… it isn’t) and this world is tied with religion, though it need not be. Regardless, masculinity is a myth, like femininity. There is an entire mythology to masculinity and femininity, and many women have been actively altering female mythology over the past couple centuries in the West. If this wasn’t enough to piss some men off, some women are also actively trying to alter the mythology of men.

But let’s drop the religious-sounding language, in favor of a more empirical, scientific terminology. In a sense, masculinity has been an experiment. If I may be so bold, I am obliged to say that in many ways it has failed.

Masculinity has undoubtedly succeeded in some respects. We are still here as a species, after all. But if mere survival is our end goal, I believe we are setting our sights rather low as men.

Statistically, men are falling behind. The feminist experiment in redefining femininity has been an indisputable success. More women are earning advanced degrees, women commit far less crime, and women live longer than men. Women are on the whole happier and kill themselves less often. In nearly every modern measure of success, men have fallen behind. We can make jokes about it or pretend these things as unimportant, but the facts remain.

This situation is largely a function of how the male ideal is stuck in the past. Masculinity is a fossil, and men tend to pride themselves on the most inconsequential things. My internal 12-year-old is itching to tell me, in response to the above examples of female superiority, “Yeah, but I could take any woman in a fight!”

Well, first of all: no, internal 12-year-old, not with this body. I could probably take a lot of women, but there are some tough ladies, and this flabby pile of adipose tissue wouldn’t stand a chance against a whole slew of female professional athletes, or just women who are physically imposing compared to my chubby 5’11” frame.

Second of all, who cares if I can beat someone up? This is the age of the gun, the great equalizer. All the testosterone in the world won’t give me a physique that is bulletproof. Besides, in a society, it is not the individual that matters in situations of physical violence. The very basis of society itself is focused on neutralizing such inequalities, acting as a group for justice. This is why there are police and armies: because using force in a large, organized fashion can minimize the impact of injustice among individuals (while, of course, opening the door to a whole new kind of injustice… but that is another issue entirely).

Of course, the majority of male detractors of feminism aren’t using this as their argument (even if they’re thinking it, but are considering whether to comment on how they never would). A popular one, and one I have used in the past, is that feminism focuses too much on women.

I tend to file this one under the “no shit, Sherlock” category. Seeing a guy make this argument is tantamount to a white person saying, “Yeah, but what has the NAACP ever done for me?” I’ll tell you the benefit of these special interest groups that seek to expand the rights of certain demographics: a more equitable society.

On top of that, I have a news flash for men: not everything is about us. If you’re a male (especially white… and this is the internet, so let’s be honest, you’re probably white), I urge you to read that last sentence again, and maybe a third time, too. If that offends you, ask yourself: why? Is it because you know it’s true, or because you wish it wasn’t true (because it most certainly is true)? It’s not offensive to me at all, nor to any other mentally stable and emotionally adjusted man. There is frankly no reason for an adult to have an ego that is too sensitive to be told that the world does not revolve around them.

If it’s too much for you to accept that other people have problems, I honestly am not sure what hope there is for you.

Though honestly, it’s not necessarily an issue of selfishness that drives male hostility for feminism. Instead, there are those who see feminism as a human idea, and is therefore subject to all of the imperfections inherent in human ideas.

Without question, one could decide to cherry pick examples from feminism and say, “Look, here, feminism is an extremist group of crazy, man-hating dykes who practice witchcraft and eat aborted baby sushi rolls while using a butcher knife to carve ‘pig’ into the skin of a man chained to a radiator.” You could say that, but I hope that at least atheists would know better.

I mean honestly, if you’re an atheist, have you not learned anything from people trying to shove Stalin and Mao in your face like they constitute a good representation of atheism? If you’re a Christian, I understand why you might be so clueless, but atheists supposedly pride themselves on logic.

To point to failures in a vast field of feminists does not succeed in proving anything except that feminism is not perfect. What more, I see so few tangible examples of feminists overstepping their boundaries. I mostly see extremists pointing to perfectly reasonable feminist ideas (like eliminating the pay gap or fighting against the perception that women are responsible for rape because of how they dress), and then I see “moderates” who feel obliged to frame the debate as if there are two equal sides, each as acceptable as the other.

I mentioned masculinity as an experiment earlier, and before that as a mythology being altered by feminists. It doesn’t have to be feminists or women who alter the course of masculinity. It just happens to include them because so few men are acknowledging the need to redefine what it means to be a man. Women are doing us a favor, but men don’t want help. Men shrug off help; we want to do it ourselves.

Women have gone from barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen to outpacing men in many areas of intellectual achievement in a relatively short time. I would feel comfortable putting masculinity in their hands, but I have a feeling that nothing women come up with will please men. Ultimately, and all women know this, if you want to get a man to change his mind, you have to get him to believe he thought of it himself.

It all comes back to that ego…

So, I’ll step up and take some initiative in the gender war. I submit to you, my gentle reader, my new model for masculinity, based on what has not worked for men and what has worked for women.

First of all, the whole “machismo” bullshit has got to go. Say good-bye to that obsession with guns, weapons, fast cars, motorcycles… you know, all that stuff you bought to compensate for your tiny penis. If you just have to get off on taking a risk, be a real man and try telling that girl you’ve been dating for years that you love her and just get married already.

Another problem, and this is the one I struggle with, is that men are easily side-tracked. Porn comes to mind (it often does), but there are plenty of other male-dominated distractions, from sports to video games. Entire billion dollar industries run solely on wasting (primarily) men’s time. Obviously, some women are into this stuff, but there is a social stigma attached to it for women, and this is enough to provide the vast majority of women who do enjoy these things a reason to distance themselves from becoming obsessed.

In other words: it’s socially acceptable (for whatever reason) for men to be insanely into something like sports, and for it to dominate his time and even detract from his life. These things should not be banned or limited, but should instead be socially treated in a manner that discourages so many bright and promising young men from throwing away countless hours on things that won’t provide serious benefit. Basically, it should not be masculine to throw away your life on frivolity.

Men also do drugs at a higher rate, which has a similar outcome, with the added problem that this activity also ends up being the main source of male inmates (and probably female inmates, though I might be wrong). In many ways, ending the drug war would be a great boon to men, especially black men, for while drug use probably would not go down (and may even rise), the detrimental effects of drug use pale in comparison to being convicted of a crime.

Perhaps the biggest complaint of wives is that men don’t help out enough around the house (including child care), and most don’t. Even if you have a job, it’s still your responsibility to do some things around the house. Your wife is not your maid. In fact, chances are she probably has a job, too. It does everyone (male or female) some good to know what goes into cleaning and maintaining a house. If you never clean, you probably won’t realize what a horrible mess you make. If anything, gritting your teeth and just doing some chores can provide you with a little appreciation for your spouse.

I could keep going, but this is more than enough for one post. If you somehow made it to the end of this, congratulations are in order. I hope this makes a decent start, but I’m sure at some point in the foreseeable future that I will be delving into this idea of redefining masculinity more fully.
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