My new blog!

Okay, so YAY! I have a new blog :) http://www.ymberlenis.com

Enjoy it!

Why the hate?

I’ve seen so many atheists today ranting about Christians and how they’re horrible people for believing atheists are going to hell. My blog post from earlier today showed one atheist attacking another’s principles because the latter was able to have friends who were Christians.

The one I conversed with earlier said to me:

“I’m absolutely intolerant to people that think Im going to hell, or that homosexuality is a sin or that women are subject to men”

I just can’t see how we, who are screaming for fairness, equality and tolerance can ever use the phrase “intolerant of people.” Yeah, the ideas we don’t have to tolerate, but the person? That’s a human being.

I don’t give a flying fuck if a person thinks I’m going to hell. What I *do* care about is whether they’ll respect me and my beliefs enough to not spend all our interactions trying to save me.

If they think homosexuality is a sin? Well, they’re allowed to think what they want. it’s when they start trying to dictate how others should behave or be allowed to live their own private lives that my hackles go up. If they can look at a gay person, who they’ve been taught is a sinner, and can see a human being, then I can respect the Christian the same way.

It is a common knee-jerk reaction for atheists to be angry towards Christians, to expect and automatically defend against fire and brimstone preaching. It’s not necessary. We don’t have to tolerate religion’s insistence that everyone be converted and live the same, pristine life; *that* attitude should be challenged. But why should we close our hearts to perfectly wonderful people whose ideas happen to not align with our own, if their hearts are open to us?

Doesn’t that make us as bad as the people we’re railing against?

How Rational, Really?

I usually try to avoid the same old runaround conversations with theists whose minds I won’t change and who won’t convert me. They’re unproductive, generally devolve into something uncivilized at best, and are a waste of time that could be better spent. I use this blog, often, as a place to present my arguments when I need to get them out. It’s easier to keep them linear and appropriate.

But today, I fell into what I had hoped would be a productive conversation on Twitter. Why did I have hopes? Because the guy (RationalOutlet)  is an atheist. I thought, at least we’re starting with a similar world view. Yeah, it didn’t so much pan out. Here’s how it went (the first bit of the conversation, I was just watching):

RationalOutlet @EmilysPoste Almost all the people around me are atheists. Respect is fundamental to a relationship and the religious do not deserve mine.
about 16 hours ago via web in reply to EmilysPoste

EmilysPoste @atheist_panda @RationalOutlet I can respect people but still disagree with them. I guess that’s the difference between us.
about 6 hours ago via web in reply to atheist_panda

RationalOutlet @EmilysPoste You’re just willing to compromise your principles. That’s the difference between us.
about 6 hours ago via Twitter for iPhone in reply to EmilysPoste

EmilysPoste @RationalOutlet Apparently you do, which makes you appear a hypocrite.
about 6 hours ago via web in reply to RationalOutlet

RationalOutlet @EmilysPoste It’s good to know you have no principles.
about 6 hours ago via Twitter for iPhone in reply to EmilysPoste

(This is where I felt the need to jump in.)

ymberlenis @EmilysPoste @rationaloutlet. Didn’t know being an atheist meant other atheists get to define your principles for you. How like religion.
about 5 hours ago via Twitter for iPhone from Phoenix Gateway, Phoenix in reply to EmilysPoste

RationalOutlet @ymberlenis If you think religion is harmful then why stay quiet and say nothing. I choose to associate with like-minded individuals.
about 4 hours ago via Twitter for iPhone in reply to ymberlenis

ymberlenis @RationalOutlet @EmilysPoste Maybe so, but like-minded doesn’t equal narrow-minded. Also, choosing not to associate w/ someone is different from insulting them outright. Much of religion’s harm to society is its intolerance of different viewpoints. Your comments sound very much like their dogma and could prove just as harmful. Just asking a little respect for fellow humans, is all.
about 5 hours ago via Twitter for iPhone from Phoenix Gateway, Phoenix in reply to EmilysPoste

RationalOutlet @ymberlenis I’m absolutely intolerant to people that think Im going to hell, or that homosexuality is a sin or that women are subject to men
about 4 hours ago via Twitter for iPhone in reply to ymberlenis

ymberlenis @RationalOutlet @EmilysPoste That’s fine if those are your principles. I disagree, but I respect your right to have them. My objection was to you telling an atheist who chooses to be more tolerant that she lacks principles at all. It’s not fair for you to dictate what we all believe. You don’t have to respect a person’s beliefs, but they have a right to have them. What they don’t have a right to do is force them on others or judge others who don’t share them. That’s what you were doing, and it’s no better than a dogmatic religion.
about 2 hours ago via Twitter for iPhone from Phoenix Gateway, Phoenix in reply to RationalOutlet

RationalOutlet @ymberlenis Im glad you are tolerant of hateful people.
about 2 hours ago via Twitter for iPhone in reply to ymberlenis

ymberlenis @RationalOutlet Wow. You’re willfully twisting my words. If you’re not interested in my opinion (I realize it was unsolicited), then ignore me. If you genuinely want a conversation, I’m open to helping clarify my views. But if you’re just looking to attack anyone who offers a different idea w/o trying to understand it, you’re as hateful as the religions you scorn. I feel I’ve made my objection clear. Try reading what I wrote, not what you wanted to see.
about 2 hours ago via Twitter for iPhone from Phoenix, AZ in reply to RationalOutlet

RationalOutlet @ymberlenis You don’t understand either. I respect everyones right to speak but their views should not go uncontested. Esp. the religious
about 1 hour ago via Twitter for iPhone in reply to ymberlenis

ymberlenis @RationalOutlet I never said they shouldn’t. I simply said that it should be done with respect. What you said to @EmilysPoste was very disrespectful. Rationality is about asking questions and making reasonable statements. What you’re doing is making quick judgments that don’t progress your ideas at all. I’m asking you to look at how you speak to people. If you expect someone to consider changing their views, no matter how distasteful you find their ideas, alienating the person first is never going to accomplish that. This is all I’m trying to say. You don’t have to agree with them, but drive change, not conflict.
about 1 hour ago via Twitter for iPhone from Tempe, AZ in reply to RationalOutlet

RationalOutlet @ymberlenis Oh please.
36 minutes ago via Twitter for iPhone in reply to ymberlenis

Yeah, this is where I came here. When a conversation/debate degenerates into “Oh please,” it’s pretty much a lost cause.

I won’t rehash everything I said; I think I made my opinion clear. I’m honestly open to feedback and debate and questions on it. These can even be peppered with scorn and ridiculed if necessary. But I won’t take the scorn and ridicule without something productive to respond to.

</rant> Thanks for listening.

Don’t preach about atheism if you’ve no idea what it is. (Part 2)

Wednesday, I addressed Part I of a series of articles about Atheism. Here, I’m going to try to respond to Atheism – Part II: Morality.

This article is really a jumble of logical fallacies, but I’m going to try to cut to the heart of the author’s point nonetheless. Wish me luck; I’m going in.

It means that the human brain is the highest moral authority in the universe. Whether it is an evolving paradigm or an inherited thing given to us by evolution, “morality” is a product of the human brain

If Atheism is correct, let’s ask an interesting question:

“If everyone – you, me, and even the Jews – EVERYONE – agreed that what the Nazis did in WWII was moral, would it be “moral”?

This is such a gotcha question. Really. The author is so smug in his presentation and decision of what either answer (yes or no) would mean to the atheist world view. Frankly, I know that my response would mean little in helping the author actually understand the atheist world view, because he’s not genuinely interested in understanding it; he just wants to dismiss it.

I’m still going to try.

The answer to the question is, “Well, yeah.” No, no – I can hear your gasps of horror and your ‘I-told-you-so’s. Just cool your jets there, little buddy. Remember that listening thing we talked about? Yeah, I’m gonna ask you to try it out now.

The thing is, you argue that atheists believe “‘morality’ is a product of the human brain.” Which is nearly true (in my case – remember, I don’t speak for all atheists, and they can agree or disagree as they like). Morality is the product of a collection of human brains. For the most part, we don’t individually decide what is moral. If that were true, religions across the world and across history wouldn’t have so many central tenets in common.

Ultimately, humanity determines morality based on what propagates the species in the best way. Clearly, deciding to slaughter a huge swath of said species does not accomplish this, so it would be evolutionarily counter-productive to determine this as moral behavior. I know, I know – this sounds unbelievably clinical and harsh. We’re talking about people’s lives here! Exactly – that empathy, that hollow pit in the stomach when you think of the Holocaust – that’s evolution at work. That’s one of our mechanisms for fighting for our species’ survival.

Under Atheim, all Hitler really did “wrong” in WWII was to lose the war.

This is such a disgusting interpretation of the atheist world view, I’m floored. I don’t have the words for it. We’re not discussing whether an atheist living in this world, in this society, believes that Hitler’s actions were moral. You’re taken a response to a hypothetical situation and carried it well outside that hypothetical’s scope. This is not logic and reason, with which you claim you’ll “analyze the implications of atheism.” That is poisoning the well.

Anyhow, back to the author’s point about this subjective morality (and his feelings about responses like min):

Does this sound sane? Actually, it isn’t. Below is the legal definition of “insanity”, according to Nolo Press, the legal self-help publishing center:

“A mental defect or disease that makes it impossible for a person to understand the wrongfulness of his acts or, even if he understands them, to distinguish right from wrong.”

The author doesn’t seem to grasp that his argument is rather circular in reasoning. You see, in your “hypothetical” world, EVERYBODY accepts Hitler’s actions as moral. Which would mean that the assessment that it is moral would indeed be accurate, because morality is a human construct, generally meant, at its core, to protect the species. So it’s not insane by that definition. You’re trying to hold the inhabitants of your hypothetical world up to the fire of established morality in this world. They’re not parallel. They’re two different worlds.

I get that it’s a horrendous thing to even suggest that there’s a place or time where the Nazi regime didn’t commit acts of atrocity, but rather acted to an accepted moral code. It makes me feel creepy just doing it. But that doesn’t make my answer wrong. It doesn’t make my world view insane.

This author’s reasoning and logic are so convoluted and fold back on themselves so many times, I know my response must feel convoluted and circular as well. I’ve tried to lay it out as linearly as possible, but please comment if it doesn’t make sense, you have questions, or if you’ve anything at all to add.

I won’t be continuing to address each of the author’s series on atheism. I’m sure this will be taken as a sign that his/her logic has overwhelmed me. Well, I suppose in a sense, it has. It’s the same old rhetoric. The first couple of articles seemed like someone who was actually thinking on their own (albeit poorly), but the later articles are just spouting the same old myths and faulty views we’ve all heard before. They’ve been refuted so many times before, all I would be contributing to is a clog in the blogosphere.

If you want to read the rest of the series, click this link.

Don’t preach about atheism if you’ve no idea what it is. (Part 1)

I know it’s really exhausting most of the time, but if you’re going to mock or denigrate another person’s worldview, it would be very, I don’t know, helpful/considerate/smart, to try to understand it. And once you’ve done that, and you’re still going to tear it down, the next step would be to explain why it’s wrong. Especially if you’re a “news outlet.” Just a thought.

I ran across this article: Atheism – Part I: Authority. Honestly, I can’t wait to read the rest of this series from the El Dorado Hills [California] Telegraph. I’m not familiar with this publication, so maybe this is par for the course for them. I’m not going to explore any further, because I have enough to deal with from this one page. I’m just going to take all the lovely author’s comments in order. Let’s start with:

Allegedly there is “strong” atheism, “weak” atheism, “explicit” atheism and “implicit” atheism, “positive” atheists, “negative” atheists, “skeptics”, anti-theists and more. Atheist apologists will take full advantage of the situation, usually taking a position whereby they can hold that the possibility of God’s existence is so remote and untenable that it is worthy of the most severe ridicule, yet leave a door open to the possibility just wide enough to claim that they are still “open-minded”, avoiding accusations of absolutism (being “absolutely certain” of something’s non-existence is logically untenable, so they avoid this trap).

Well, I’ve mentioned before that I can only speak for myself, because – as the author so kindly pointed out – there are many different views related to atheism. But in my experience, a wide majority of atheists genuinely don’t belive with 100% certainty that there is no god, because there is no empirical evidence that confirms or denies an existence conclusively. The atheist’s position is typically a result of looking at the evidence presented for the case of god and finding unsatisfactory. So, while the author isn’t entirely inaccurate that atheists won’t generally lean toward absolutism, it is not an artifact intended to create some facade of fairness, or hedging our bets if you will. It is born from reason and a true willingness to be wrong. This is not something to be derided. It actually should be a model anyone of any belief should consider.

Some atheists even go beyond confusion to absurdity by claiming that theists are in fact “atheists” too – to all the false gods that they don’t believe in (i.e., Thor, Zeus, etc. “Atheists just go one God further” is the cute quip).

Sorry, but aside from reducing it to a “cute quip,” why is this argument absurd?Are you, in fact, not an azeusist or an athorist? It’s actually meant to offer a little insight to people who believe in a particular god and not all of them. Apparently, that was lost on you. But by all means, dismiss it as absurd.

Few will ever tell you exactly what they believe.

Well, I don’t know all the atheists in the world, but I do know very few who won’t express their ideas openly when asked. Based on what I’ve seen so far, I’d wager you simply aren’t listening, or just aren’t hearing what you want to hear. But that’s just a guess.

Atheism is not so much about the existence or non-existence of the supernatural (note that a recent study found that atheists were actually MORE likely to believe in pseudo-scientific things like horology, astrology, crystals, etc. than were fundamentalist Christians, believe it or not!); rather, Atheism is – at its root – a rejection of moral authority.

Well, you blew my going-in-order plan right out of the water, didn’t ya? Because right in the middle of this outrageous sentence, you inserted some study without any clue as to where to find it. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to deny it. Atheism, at its core, is only the refutation of the existence of any god. It doesn’t preclude belief in other supernatural elements. Though, many atheists arrive at the position on the existence of god(s) based on reason and a lack of evidence, so it very often follows the lack of evidence for other pseudoscience would play a role, too. That’s just my hypothesis; I have no evidence for it. But you’re not playing fair when you mention this ephemeral study and won’t let me learn more about its methodology or its conclusions. So, pony up or leave it out.

Now, I’ve already described a mechanism through which most atheists I know (including myself) arrived at calling themselves atheists. I have very little doubt that there are atheists who are interested solely in a “rejection of moral authority.” There are probably people of any faith interested in that, statistically speaking. But here’s the deal: evolution drives a moral authority. Society drives a moral authority. Conscience drives a moral authority. A human’s deepest instincts say that if they’re not nice to that human over there, that other human will punish them for it, or at least won’t be nice back. That’s the ethic of reciprocity. Today, we know it as the Golden Rule, because that’s what Christians called it when they repackaged it as their own idea. I talk more about this on my Common Atheist Myths  page. There’s a link to it here somewhere, go check it out. Really. Because this is a common argument, and it’s simply not true. You’ve not broken some new ground here, you’re just [again] not hearing the answer that’s been given time and time again.

A bald demonstration of this is found in Ben Stein’s excellent movie “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed”…

Er, proving my point for me – this movie has been pretty thoroughly discredited, so clearly you’re not interested in hearing the other side. Oh, sorry – continue.

 Stein rightly points out the hypocrisy of Dawkins’ view that practically any wacky theory of how life might have begun on our planet can be seriously entertained by him – including through “the backs of crystals” or by “space aliens” – yet the far more plausible idea creation by an intelligent Creator is “insane” and “wicked” to him. But what is the difference between “space aliens” and God? Why is it that Dawkins can allow a “space alien” theory, but not a God theory? What is the difference?

Um, you could hear Dawkins talking in that piece, right? I’ve blocked that farce of a movie from my mind in the interest of maintaining sanity, but I’m pretty sure I don’t remember Dawkins saying anything like, “You know, Benny boy, by Jove, you’re right!”

The difference is that scientists have actually found evidence that could potentially support a panspermia model. And the evidence is remarkably overwhelming for evolution, I don’t even know which site to link you to. There are so many reputable universities and researchers sharing information online, just do a little bit of research on it. Try actually paying attention to the huge consensus trying to show the world why they shouldn’t just be believed, but what the geologic history is practically screaming at us.

It is AUTHORITY. If it were indeed space aliens that got life going here on earth, we would thank them perhaps, wouldn’t we – but we wouldn’t owe them any obedience, would we?

Sorry, but you’re the one being downright absurd now. Is that really what you thought he meant, or are you being egregiously facetious to make your point? Watch the movie again. Try REALLY LISTENING to Dawkins like a serious person, not someone who’s predisposed to your own opinion and mocking every different one that comes along.

There is also sociological evidence that issues with authority – and specifically one’s relationship to their father – underlay one’s decision to become an atheist, not rational thought. In his book “Faith of the Fatherless”, psychologist Dr. Paul Vitz chronicles the lives of over 12 prominent atheists and compares to prominent theists in contemporaneous situations. In every case, the theists had good relationships with their fathers, while the atheists had relationships that were described as turbulent, abusive or absentee.

Okay. What the hell does that have to do with anything? How did he choose the people he studied? Was it some random sample of prominent atheists, or the the ones who fit the mold he was trying to portray? It’s not “evidence” if there wasn’t some scientific method applied to acquiring and interpreting it. And now you’ve mentioned some correlation, but done nothing to make it meaningful or interpretive. Some weird form of poisoning the well, I think.

For the record, I never knew my father. But I had a very kind, caring father figure in my life with whom I had a loving and healthy relationship. So in your correlation, does that mean that I should be a theist or an atheist? See, nothing’s so black and white.

We’ll see what atheists mean by “morality” in “Part II: Morality”, tomorrow.

Can’t wait. Sure I’ll see you then.

No one’s mistaking Cochran as pro-gay, don’t worry.

So, I read this article about teens protesting a school’s decision to allow a gay couple to attend prom, and it renders me completely inarticulate. Seriously. All I’ve been able to say about it for 3 days is, “Wha-?” “Huh?” “But -“

I may rant here, but in general, I try to conduct a reasoned, relatively even-keeled argument regarding my position on any given topic. Unfortunately, it’s taken me 3 days to get past this particular thought:

“IT’S TWENTY-FUCKING-TEN, PEOPLE!”

Okay, so, I had to get that out of my system. There you go. Now, I can express an intelligent opinion. (Thanks for bearing with me through that).

1. A school board should not be deciding who its students take to the prom. The prom, or any school dance/event, is an event for all students. Are there other reasons students are excluded? I mean, besides having not bought a ticket? I mean, it’s not even like an extracurricular activity, where if you’re failing a class you can’t participate. How is this a matter for the board AT ALL? That said, kudos to the board for making a reasonable decision in the end.

2. I believe firmly in letting go of regrets and not reliving stupid things said, but I really hope someday high school senior Keith Bowman Jr. and local businessman John Smith look back on their words in print here with regret and some level of enlightenment. They are truly ignorant and bigoted:

“We knew Derrick was gay,” said Keith Bowman Jr., a high school senior who showed up at the rally. “They don’t want (Cochran) to be known as a pro gay town.”

“People who don’t know the area will think it reflects on everybody,” said John Smith, a grandfather who owns an air-conditioning business in Cochran.

In other words, they project their own insecurity and outstanding bigotry on everyone in any other town who might have even just one gay person, and now people might think the same way of them. Here’s a news flash: In twenty-fucking-ten, most people don’t give a damn about a town’s gay population. Too many people still do, unfortunately, but I gotta say, you’re worrying about a shrinking majority. It’s too bad you’re still in it, guys.

3. This is the really kicker that I can’t wrap my head around:

“I don’t believe in going up there and dancing with gay guys like that,” she said. “It’s also not just him bringing a boy. It was bringing all this attention to it.” ~The rally’s organizer, Amber Duskin.

This is how I read that quote: “Um, so, yeah… [chomps gum] I’m totally against that whole gay thing ’cause it’s wrong and stuff. But don’t write that down, ’cause I’m telling people it’s about all this media attention the school board’s decision has drawn, and I totally can’t get the irony of throwing a party – er, I mean protest – to show how bad all that attention is. Oh, a picture? Here, my right’s my best side.”

Yeah, okay, I’m indulging a bit of judgment on my part, too, but goddammit, seriously? What did you think would happen when you showed up at the courthouse? LESS media attention? What the fuck?

Alright, and also, who is asking you to dance with the gay guy? He seems to be handling this whole ordeal with an enormous amount of class, so even if you begged, he’d probably give you a dance or two. I’d personally push you to the dance floor and dance all over you. But that’s just me.

Here’s what you have to learn at some point, Amber, darling: at some point in your life, you’re going to be in a room with someone who doesn’t think exactly as you do. When you grow up and get a job, you’re going to sit in a conference room with someone who doesn’t share your perspective on life, or probably even on your job. The people who sign your paycheck will expect you to suck it up and settle disagreements with reason and equity. Consider this prom practice for life. With dancing and a decent meal.

Or don’t. It would probably be more pleasant without you.

4. Speaking of the class of Derrick Martin (the guy this whirlwind of attention is focused on), can I just ask where the heck he learned it from? Because apparently his parents aren’t exactly on the same level. They’ve kicked him out of the house.

As a result of the media attention, Martin’s parents have kicked him out of their home, and he’s staying with a friend in Cochran.

It takes a special kind of hate to kick a 17-year-old kid out of a place that should be a secure, safe haven for him.

5. High school students and citizens alike seem to be rubbing their hands and plotting ways to get around the school’s decision:

Martin said talk at school Thursday was that the prom committee may do away with the traditional “walk through” when students and their dates are announced as they enter the prom.

He’s also heard some students are trying to have a separate prom.

Oh, and Ms. Duskin’s preferred method:

The senior said she asked her high school to return her prom ticket money and does not plan to attend because of Martin.

I don’t know what the response is/will be, but if I were in charge of selling tickets for this thing, I’d tell her that hate and bigotry are not sufficient reasons for a refund. Sorry. Guess you’ll have to choose between your wallet and your precious beliefs. Oh, the horror.

Okay, I can hear some of you detractors who think I’m wrong and being a bit harsh. This girl and this town haven’t done anything to incite violence towards Derrick Martin; they’re simply standing up for their beliefs. Here’s what I say to that:

It isn’t possible to use words too harsh with people who encourage the isolation of another law-abiding human being because they aren’t the same. Even if you believe homosexuality is a lifestyle choice (it isn’t), what right do you have to exclude anyone based on it? Your religion is a lifestyle choice, believe it or not. You’re not excluded from society based on it because you’re in a majority. Even if you weren’t the majority, it would be wrong to treat you this way, as tempting as it would be.

The truth is that homosexuality is not a choice, any more than heterosexuality is. Any more than the sex assigned to you based on the genitals you’re born with is. Any more than your height or eye color is. The fact that this is in the news is as absurd as it would be to read tomorrow that all hazel-eyed people need are only allowed to drive white cars, because we know how bad they are about running red lights, and we can give white cars a wide berth.

We’re banning the dictionary now?

I’ve just arrived at the office, and I should be working. But I’m not. I’m too angry about an article I read on the way here (don’t worry, I wasn’t driving, so no, I wasn’t the idiot creeping into  your lane with the Blackberry above the steering wheel).

This is what I read: “Dictionary banned from school classroom.

The dictionary – the much-respected Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate version – was pulled from classrooms after a parent at Oak Meadows Elementary School complained. This was because a child had found the definition of “oral sex” in the book (I’d guess it’s there along with a lot of other “bad” words).

What really bothers me is not just that this ignorant slime who wants to take a reference tool as basic as the dictionary away (though that really is enough to ignite a rage), it’s that the reaction is “mixed.”

…parent reaction has been mixed, with some parents in favour, saying that the books shouldn’t be in use for young children (aged 9/10).

Really? What age, then, is appropriate for children (or adults, maybe?) to learn to independently answer a question about something they don’t know?

I’ll grant that 9/10 years old is a little young to be performing oral sex. But it’s not too young to be curious about something they heard somewhere. So what does Webster’s say when you look that up?

oral stimulation of the genitals : cunnilingus, fellatio

I can’t speak for every 10-year-old out there, but when I was that age, that wouldn’t have helped me one bit. Even so, there’s nothing “dirty” about it. It’s a very clinical, sterile definition.  I looked that up online, but I’d be willing to bet that a hard copy of the dictionary doesn’t have any visual demonstrations that weren’t included in the free online version.

But none of that matters. Because the kid who looked this up, and apparently disclosed it to his or her parent, should have a parent who asked questions like, “what prompted you to look that up?” “what do you think about what you learned?” “do you have any questions?” There needs to be a communication with the kid, an age-appropriate conversation, and an assessment of how to respond to the child on an individual basis.

The solution to what must surely be an uncomfortable position for the parent is NOT a knee-jerk reaction to take a highly valuable reference tool away from every kid in a school because one kid stumbled across this phrase one way or another.

I’m sorry, parents, but there are things in this world that curious kids won’t be sheltered from forever. It is human nature to want to explore things not only that we don’t understand, but what we understand to be forbidden. You do not get to hold your child in some sort of informational stasis until you’re ready to tell them about the things you believe to be ugliest in the world. It will be a rare occasion when that actually works.

Believe me, the dictionary is not the source of this parent’s perceived problem here. And here’s a news flash: in the absence of a dictionary, kids will find other ways to answer their questions. And most of them probably will have visual aids.

De-friend the Enemy?

We all have them, right? Those Facebook “friends” (Facebook’s term, not mine) who we knew in high school, but haven’t seen since the mortarboards flew? Yet, at some point, we received an invite to peek into their online lives, with pictures of their kids, spouses, homes, etc. And we thought, “sure, why not?” Well, I did, anyway.

Now, having grown up in what residents proudly coin the “buckle of the Bible belt,” and in what is a vibrantly red state, many of these old high school people are very religious and very conservative, and very open about it. My profile indicates that I’m an atheist (in the “religion” field, which irks me, because it’s not a religion, but I digress), but I rarely post any status updates there, much less anything inflammatory. (I save that for Twitter; Facebook gets the “I’m going to class” or “Is it Friday yet” banality).If I’m being honest, I don’t want the hassle of controversy. I don’t usually get a lot of energy from drama and intrigue, and I don’t feel like banging my head against a wall trying to make them understand why I don’t believe. Paradoxically, it’s also a little bit because I think they just might ignore me, and where would the fun be in that? Anyhow, this post is not really so much about me and my Facebook habits, as it is about those of these “friends.”

Many of them talk regularly about praying, thanking God, and so forth. But there is one in particular who dedicates every bloody status update to delivering a sermon (probably so heathens who may have missed one Sunday will still hear the word). Here are a few examples, all from the last week:

it’s not the time to give up, give in and accept defeat no matter how long you have been believing for something! It is the time to prepare, to walk tall, head lifted high and exceeding joy for your answer was released the moment you prayed, your healing provided over 2K yrs ago and NOW is the time to RECEIVE it!

blessed, healed, redeemed, saved, delivered, protected, filled with joy, made at peace, an overcomer, and victorious! All in the name of JESUS! Hallelujah!

the enemy will do everything he can to get you to lose confidence in the Word of God, because if you do, you’ll stop speaking it. Even when you feel all hope is lost, there’s still a spiritual battle being fought on your behalf and guess what-YOU’VE ALREADY WON! Don’t stop speaking the Word no matter what happens or how you feel! God’s message to me this morning, and I know I’m not the only one who needs to hear it!

Prayer is not only us talking to God, it’s also listening, so He can talk to us…there’s nothing that He doesn’t already know about you and your life, BUT there’s a whole lot that we don’t know…after putting it that way, who should be the one doing the talking and who should be the one listening?

My initial instinct is to de-friend this person. After all, clearly all she and I have in common is a school and a graduation date. Even in high school, we weren’t friends. But I keep coming across a bit of a dilemma.

As a relatively “active” atheist, I want to be someone who helps to set the example of rational thought and skepticism towards religion. I fully expect (although haven’t so much found) the courtesy of being listened to, not dismissed because my beliefs don’t match another person’s.

I am an atheist not because a God has been unproven, but because all the empirical evidence in the world tells me we don’t need one, and that the gods that abound are human constructs. I am completely open to new, non-fallacious arguments for the existence of a god, and I feel that if I’m going to ask for the courtesy of being heard and listened to, then I must extend that courtesy as well. To do that, I have to keep the lines of communication open.

I would like to point out that I don’t hold this position because of all the respectful behavior I’ve experienced when conversing with Christians. I don’t respect them because their actions have merited it in any way, I respect them because I want, someday, for them to return the favor. I still haven’t heard anything that suggests religion or gods deserve any special place; I just want to have an honest, open discourse (to borrow from a Christian I wrote about in a previous post). I think engaging in and encouraging logical discussion (while it does feel like banging one’s head against a wall) is the only way to be heard and understood.

So she and others remain folks whose status updates I will see regularly on Facebook. (Although probably less so with the site’s recent “upgrades.”) No one has done anything to offend or slight me (in which case, I’ll gladly remove anyone from my friends list); it’s not like they’re posting this stuff on my own wall, and they’re all entitled to believe and say what they like.

As annoying as I find the jibber-jabber, I will continue to read it with thoughtfulness and consideration I expect to be afforded.

Should we tolerate religion?

For the last few weeks, I’ve been having an internal debate on whether or not I think we should continue to tolerate religion on our society. After all this time and deliberation, here’s where I’ve landed:

I have no fucking clue.

And I’m going to support this statement with ever-so-reliable anecdotal evidence. Maybe some day I’ll find time to research the real, meaningful statistics that might change my mind, but for now, I’m just happy I’ve found a bit of time where my brain is willing to function and no one else is demanding it to, so that I can just get these thoughts out of my head and into the pensieve.

On the one hand, there’s the position that I’m most inclined to take, and that’s the one that says with a slightly pompous British accent that sounds remarkably like the great Christopher Hitchens, that religion poisons everything. That religion gets its grubby little hands all over every little bit of our society and not only derides anyone who sees the world/universe differently, but it convinces everyone that it possibly can they should do the same.

Oh, and when derision hour is done, anyone who doesn’t convert should be stoned (or crushed or burned or stabbed or crucified or raped or maimed or tortured/murdered in whatever creative way can be thought of).

Religion tells people that knowledge is dangerous, and that it has all the answers they’ll ever need. That you’ll be just fine if you shut your eyes, wave your hands in the air and live your life for its god/gods/goddesses.

It doesn’t encourage people to think for themselves, it teaches them to think for it. And in democratic societies, when it deludes the majority of the population, the people who are most malleable make decisions for the society that do not benefit anyone but religion. Sometimes these are relatively small, unobtrusive things like turning a secular nation’s motto into “In God we trust,” but sometimes it can be a truly profound violation of human rights like insisting that homosexuality is an abomination of God’s creation and gay men and women should not be allowed to marry.

Religion suggests that we should base the laws of our technologically and scientifically advanced society on the [inconsistent] teachings of a 2,000 year old collection of poetry and short stories, written by people who were trying to explain the world in the best way they could. In other words, religion tells us that we have gained nothing over the past 2,000 years of our existence, and we should be ecstatic about it.

So, it sounds like I’m pretty convinced of my position, right? Down with religion!

Well… no. I hate these facets of theism, I really do. But I’ve seen another side of religion.

There are people in this world who, for whatever reason, live hard lives that are turned around by “Jesus’s love.” You and I know that is a strength they found within themselves, but they are unable to attribute walking away from drugs or beginning to treat others well to their own learning/growth, and must attribute it to a higher power. They clean their lives up, they begin contributing positively to society. Of course, we still run into the problem that they become one of the herd in all the negative impacts listed above.

But I can’t ignore my own story. There was a time in my life – a span of many years – that was exceptionally difficult. When I look back on this time and the pain I felt, I also have to remember the relief I felt at my home church. It was a safe haven; it was family I could trust. But beyond the building and the people, I found a lot of comfort in believing a god had a plan, and all my hurt was a mean to a glorious end. I know now that finding comfort in an idea does not make it any more real, as evidenced by the fact that I find great comfort in the idea that there will be a million dollars in my mailbox the next time I check it. But religion got me through those years, and probably kept me from turning to other mechanisms for comfort, like dangerous levels of drugs, alcohol, or promiscuity in my teen years.

The thing is, too, it’s really easy for me to despise religion. But I know, and genuinely love, very religious people. They are not horrible people. They don’t stone or torture non-believers (although they’re not altogether above coercive conversion tactics). Most of them are loving, caring, charitable people who won’t accept that they don’t need a god to be so. I am just as loving and charitable as I ever was when I was a churchgoer.

Hmmm… going over these thoughts in my head, during my commute or while making dinner, these thoughts seemed like much better arguments for the case of religion. I really don’t think they’re valid. I think that, while religion plays an important role in each of these relatively positive scenarios, I feel like, as a society, we can find naturalistic replacements. I suppose the most compelling argument I can come up with is this:

People have the right to believe as they choose.

But the whole crux of this argument is that everyone is people. Everyone gets to believe as they choose, and religion refuses to accept that. Religion will not afford the same rights it demands. And until it can do that, until it can say, “Here is your god. Believe in it to your heart’s fullest. But it is your god. It does not demand you recruit others to it, or live in a society perfectly tuned to it. Run your household as you please, tell others if you like, but remember everyone has the right to believe as they choose,” then I do not think it has earned its place in a free society.

So it turns out, I do know where I stand. I could, in theory, rewrite this entry to make it sound like I knew all along, but why would I lie to you? This entry was all about trying to sort out my thoughts, and here they are. I’m open to any ideas about the value of religion to society (although I strongly disagree with the ideas posited in a recent USA Today article).

So where do I think we go from here?

I have no fucking clue.

It was “No God” day on Twitter!

A Christian RT-fest this morning that read, “Know God / Know Peace, No God / No Peace” took off and started trending. Atheists picked up the trending topic, and by the time I sat down with a sandwich to lazily check my Twitter feed, “No God” was itself a trending topic. Well, actually. it was the trending topic – #1. You betcha.

I don’t have a ton of time tonight, but I needed to sit down and say the things that wouldn’t fit into Twitter’s 140-character limit or into my busy day. So I hope you’ll bear with me as I give this commentary with today’s tweets interspersed with thoughts and all that good stuff.

The “No God” search was full of things like, “No God never started any wars.” I agree, but that’s not really why I don’t believe in God. So here’s how I threw my hat into the fray:

There are lots of reasons to want No God, but the bottom line is, we don’t *need* one. God is an artifact of limited knowledge.

Pithy 140, but really only understood, I think, by fellow atheists (skeptics/freethinkers/etc.). What I meant was, gods are a creation of man, who, in ancient times, wanted to understand the things around him. Why did the earth shake sometimes? Why did the sun disappear behind the moon? Why were there floods, volcanoes, deaths, illnesses, bad luck? Humans are curious and essentially rational beings, but without millenia of scientific growth and understanding, their reason could only carry them so far. Gods who controlled heavens and fate filled the gaps of understanding.

Now we have a multitude of scientific understandings available to us. Those things they wondered about, we know to ascribe to tectonic activity, tides, human frailty, bacteria, viruses, coincidence, etc. The gods who did this for ancient man are no longer needed. They were created because of early human’s lack of knowledge. The Christian god of today is credited with creating the earth and the universe, but he’s not really necessary for that. Science explains how the earth got here, can even give us a long history of its geology and many of its life forms. The actual creation of the universe is still not really known, but we’re pretty damned close. Human understanding has filled so many of the gaps that gods were engineered to fill. Anthropology tells us we don’t need a god to be good – the ethic of reciprocity predates the Christian god by thousands of years. We’re good because that (hopefully) leads to others being good to us. We understand psychology and other sciences that help us understand ourselves. All this, and so much more (but I think you get the picture) is what I packed into that little tweet.

Here’s what someone responded:

@bjflanagan: @vkamutzki Atheism is an artifact of limited experience.

I don’t mean to be thick, but to be honest, that really seems like a nonsense response that someone threw together thinking they were clever with their allusion to my statement. I don’t get it. But then, I knew that people who weren’t coming from my point of view didn’t have the benefit of all that explanation I just gave you for my original tweet. So I responded:

@bjflanagan @vkamutzki Actually, for me, atheism was exactly the product of expanding my experience, which was v limited when I was a Xtian.

I was genuinely hoping this could open a dialogue – I still want to really understand what he meant. I should be so lucky. I don’t think he understands it. This was his reply:

bjflanagan @ymberlenis Well, so you outgrew a naive interpretation of religion. Good for you.

Er, um. Way to dismiss my entire life experience to suit your own needs. I guess. I should point out that as an aside, in response to some of the other tweets I’d been reading the search feed, I posted this:

Dear Xtians: Don’t be sad for me because I believe in no god. It’s insulting that you go straight to pity and skip over dialogue.

And this:

Amused by inanity of many No God tweets, but frustrated by reminders of most believers’ condescension and intolerance of atheists. #fb

So when I got @bjflanagan‘s tweet, I retweeted it:

There’s that condescension i was talking about. RT @bjflanagan: @ymberlenis So you outgrew a naive interpretation of religion. Good for you.

Okay, so I was moving to snarky and dismissive, too. But it’s still factually accurate; it was a very condescending thing for him to say. I got the following tweet shortly thereafter, but didn’t engage further. I want to believe I could call Poe’s Law, but reading through the rest of his feed (and seeing some nastier comments to others than what I got), I’m pretty sure he’s just massively reluded (which is shorthand for religiously deluded, just for future reference).

bjflanagan @ymberlenis Speaking as I do from the heights of my godlike wisdom, you might count yourself lucky that I spend time with you at all.

Right. Yep. I don’t. I’m a lost cause. Move on. The little voice in my head screamed, “Pick your battles! This one’s an energy-sucker! Run!” So I did. But from the same API call that brought me that last gem, came this one from someone else:

WebSelling4U #Jesus bless them all: @IMightBeRusty @supernoodle128 @MidwestClare @leauh @saynathespiffy @suezinha_s @LisaAntoniaa @ymberlenis

I really hate being prayed for. Not because I’m afraid it’ll “work,” but because I think it’s disrespectful. I tried to explain it to this guy, in several connected tweets (which is usually against my tweeting rule), so I’ll let you read them, and maybe I’ll elaborate.

I will admit my initial response was rushed and much ruder than I intended, which is part of why I tried to explain it in further detail later. Here’s the conversation:

ymberlenis .@WebSelling4U #jesus did “bless” me. For many years. It didn’t take. Save your prayers for someone who wants/needs them.

(Yeah, I still cringe at that. I want to be heard and assertive, but that really was more aggressive than I’d like to come across. I vow not to tweet under pressure/time crunches any more).

WebSelling4U @ymberlenis They’re my prayers and you need them even if you don’t want them. God’s gift is freely given even if you don’t accept it.

WebSelling4U @ymberlenis I pray you accept God’s saving grace before it is too late. I wish you peace.

He was right; he could spend his prayers as he likes. That wasn’t exactly what I meant, but I tried to concede that point at least, while still trying to make mine:

ymberlenis @WebSelling4U You’re right, they’re yours. But clearly, you don’t understand how insulting it is to me & others.

I thought about following up here with why I find it insulting. But I didn’t, because I wanted to see if he’d take the time to ask me first, or if he’d make assumptions. He didn’t do either. At first.

WebSelling4U @ymberlenis In that case I must ask you how insulting do you think Christians find this whole topic. Do you think it was meant to insult us?

WebSelling4U @ymberlenis Some in this discussion calling themselves Christians are indeed intending to be insulting. But that isn’t showing Christ’s love

WebSelling4U @ymberlenis I assure U I mean no offense but I am called to tell others about Christ. You may listen or not. Go in peace.

Do you notice here how he didn’t even care to ask about why I find him praying for me insulting? He turned it around as a  persecution of Christians, rather than an expression of a different culture’s ideas. I tried to lead by example:

ymberlenis @WebSelling4U Why are you offended that someone believes differently than you and says so?

WebSelling4U @ymberlenis I am offended when offense is meant. I am not offended by open discourse. You know yourself that some on both sides.. well U kno

I feel like I can say, with a fair amount of certainty, that at least 80% of atheists on the No God train were expressing their own ideas in their own ways, and really didn’t care about offending Christians. But, since my general rule is not to speak for all athiests (a fiercely independent group), I will heartily disclaimer that statement as my own speculation, and could very easily be wildly wrong. So, in this conversation, I tried to stick to my own convictions and ideas.

ymberlenis @WebSelling4U Thing is, it’s not open discourse. An atheist says, “there’s no god,” & xtians say, “oh that poor mangy puppy needs saving.”

ymberlenis @WebSelling4U An open discourse would involve listening to the people speaking, not directing us to a god we don’t believe in.

At this, he wrote:

WebSelling4U @ymberlenis I’ve walked both sides of that track. I know the difference Christ has made in my life. Why wouldn’t I want to share my joy?

Can anyone tell me how that answers my statement? Because I read it as, “your idea of open discourse is completely irrelevant in the face of my joy that I want to force upon you.” I could be wrong, and am open to other well-supported interpretations. But I truly wanted to have what this guy called “open discourse,” so I tried to remain civil and reasonable. So this is where I broke my no-long-tweet-strings rule, in an effort to make him understand where I was coming from:

ymberlenis @WebSelling4U That’s fine, but that’s not the point. You offered it; I don’t want it.

ymberlenis @WebSelling4U Asking God to intercede suggests I’m too stupid to get it. I also walked the other side; I know that’s exactly what it means.

ymberlenis @WebSelling4U My path away from God was not an easy one, and not taken lightly. I don’t appreciate the assumption that it was “foolhardy.”

ymberlenis @WebSelling4U Which is exactly what’s communicated when prayer substitutes open discourse.

Having been a very devout Christian from, basically, birth, until I was in my early twenties, I know that praying for a “lost soul” is supposed to be an act of love, but I also know that it’s a very cynical view of that person’s ability to think clearly. However, I don’t like people making assumptions about me based on their own life experiences, so I tried to express that all of this is what his messages were communicating to me. I’d hoped that would open the door to clarification. Not so. Apparently, the only door available was the one that opened up up to more wild assumptions:

WebSelling4U @ymberlenis Nor was mine, the path back was even more difficult but worth the effort for me. I distrust religion 2 but found I was taught…

WebSelling4U @ymberlenis I found that I was incorrectly taught what following Christ meant. It has changed my life.

WebSelling4U @ymberlenis I do pray that your heart is opened to Jesus, not to a controlling religion that will stifle you and suppress your spirit.

WebSelling4U @ymberlenis You are the only person on earth that can be you. But you cannot be what God created you to be unless you open up to Him.

WebSelling4U @ymberlenis U’re angry w/ God. OK. U’re angry w/ ppl that manipulated U by saying “God says” OK. That doesn’t mean He’s not real.

WebSelling4U @CraigPaton @AtheistRE @ymberlenis @Maclark89 My message is simple: I believed as you do until a miracle happened in my life.

WebSelling4U @CraigPaton @AtheistRE @ymberlenis @Maclark89 God is real, He loves us but hates our sin. His ways are not our ways and we cant explain it.

WebSelling4U @CraigPaton @AtheistRE @ymberlenis @Maclark89 I wish you all the peace that passes all understanding that only comes through Christ Jesus.

WebSelling4U @ymberlenis I still believe God allowed this 2 happen so someone would be led to Jesus, maybe you even. Good night & thanks 4 the tweets.

Full circle. I’m surprised he thanked me for all the tweets, as he very clearly ignored every one in the end. I had responded to one from the middle of that last string before I realized he was gone:

@WebSelling4U Actually, I’m not at all angry with god. I wasn’t angry w/ him when I believed in him. Those are the assumptions that annoy me

That’s the truth. I’m not, nor was I angry with God. In fact, in very difficult times of my life, times where many people would have been angry with him, I turned to him for comfort. I lost my faith because I couldn’t resolve the cognitive dissonance any more, and the realization of the sentiment that was my first tweet in this post was heartbreaking, and I fought it for a long time. But the simple truth is, humans don’t need a god or any gods. Our universe’s independent and solitary nature points away from a god who would have humans believe they are his prime creation.

This actually leads into another topic that I’ve been really mulling over the past couple of weeks, but haven’t found time to write: Why we shouldn’t tolerate religion any longer. That’s its lead-in; hopefully I’ll get to it tomorrow, or at least this week. I’ve already taken much more of my time and yours here than I intended. Thanks for sticking around to read this, and please, I’d love any feedback/comments/interpretations/etc., if you’ve got ‘em.

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