I don’t know what to say…

Overall I tend to have a pretty positive view of our species, despite all of the horrible things that have been done by us. Then I come across stories like the one posted by PZ Myers today (1) that makes me really fucking hate humanity!

Like most cults, [the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints are] very protective of their own and hate apostates passionately. They must send a message to anyone who dares leave the church, as Isaac Wyler discovered. He found a kitten on his property: a kitten half-encased in concrete, which suffered for a little while before it died.

I know this isn’t even close in scale to some of the horrors committed in the past by humanity, but fuck! It just baffles me to see the horrors that some people will do just to make a point about their imaginary piece of shit sky fairy. I know I shouldn’t be surprised anymore, but the fact that is isn’t unexpected doesn’t make me any less angry. There is a video of the kitten as well. I haven’t watched it; I just can’t bring myself to do it.

Reading through the comments on a Huffington Post article on the subject (a site I normally steer clear of), it’s sad to see all of the “he/she is in a better place now” comments. I know that these people are just trying to deal with it the best way they know how, but this attitude is nothing but a distraction. It’s just a placation that ultimately says “evil is OK because my sky fairies ultimate justice will even things out in the end.” This behavior not OK! This unfortunate kitten is not in a better place. He/she is dead. That’s it. End of story. And the reason this kitten is dead is, more likely than not, because of religion. Stupid…fucking…religion.

(1) Myers, PZ. “How can anyone do that to a kitten?” Pharyngula. 9th July, 2012. Available: http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2012/07/09/how-can-anyone-do-that-to-a-kitten
(2) Moye, David. “Cat Buried Alive In Concrete A Warning Message From Polygamists?” Huffington Post. 9th July, 2012. Available: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/09/cat-buried-in-concrete-colorado-city-az_n_1660320.html

Dear Esther

I just finished playing “Dear Esther,” (1) a game, if you can call it that, about the the death of a man, and I have to write about it (Warning, spoilers ahead). He is sick, or so he says. He was friends with a man named Donnelly who suffered from syphilis and abused laudanum, or so he says. He pines for his lost love Esther, or so he says. The player’s character narrates the game, but is he a trustworthy narrator?

In the game, you wander around an island, witnessing sights of beauty while listening to the forlorn tale of the island’s inhabitants. There is Jakobson, a poor man who tries to raise himself out of poverty by herding goats, and Donnelly. Who are these two people, and how do they relate to the player? We gather that Donnelly was the player’s friend but that there was a falling out.

Why is the player on the island? We hear that the player has cordoned himself on the island to isolate the sickness from others. Perhaps. When we first start out, we can see a communications antenna on the peak of the central mountain on the island, with it’s pulsating light at the top drawing us in. We immediately know that this tower is our destination. What awaits us there? Why must we traverse the island to get there? The narrator tells us that the seagulls have all left the island, and that the original inhabitants of the island have left as well. There is nothing left, just the remnants of buildings and the sickly, scraggly plant life, rocks, and sand. The feeling of loneliness and emptiness is palpable.

A beautiful cave

A beautiful cave (2)

There is a tension between the idleness of the island, the feeling of inevitable death, and the drive to reach the top. The narrator calls it his Damascus. As we travel through the island, we come across sights of true, awe-inspiring beauty. We come across paintings on the walls of caves and cliffs; paintings of hydrocarbon chains, alcohol compounds, and electrical schematics. Perhaps this is symbolic of how Esther died? Then start the messages…at first they tell the tale of the conversion of Paul on the road to Damascus, but they start to take a subtle turn. “Was Paul’s conversion the result of brain trauma?” it hints to us. Is our trip also the result of brain trauma? Is any of this real? We start to feel more and more that we are being led to the top, not going there of our own accord. It is nighttime now and the moon is up, and there are candles lighting the way. Who lit these candles? We catch glimpses of a hooded character in the shadows, but nothing more. Who is this stranger?

The drive to get to the top gets stronger. We are moving faster now. The messages on the walls start to hint at something less hopeful. We aren’t heading to our salvation at the top, but rather to the inevitable conclusion of our fate. We get to the top, to the communications tower. We climb to the top of the tower and look out over the island. We look down, past the tower, past the cliffs, to the ocean below, and we jump. We fall in slow motion, pas the tower, past the cliffs, and begin to fly across the ocean. Our shadow is that of a seagull. We fly out over the ocean, soaring, and the screen begins to fade until there is nothing left but the sound of the ocean. We are dead.

I sit pondering the game. Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus is supposed to be a story of redemption, but that is not the fate of the character. The continual references to the story seem to say many things, but never confirming. Perhaps the story is a sort of wistful hope that the character clings to in order to avoid dealing with his fate. Perhaps the game itself is saying that stories such as there only serve to divorce ourselves from reality. It certainly shows a sense of desperation in dealing with death…and perhaps even in trying to find meaning in life; some sort of sign that this journey has some revelatory meaning.

The lonely island

The lonely island (2)

Just what was the journey? Was the island real? Was there really a person leading us to the top, and if so who was he/she? Was it Esther? Donnelly? The narrator himself? We never really find out. The narrator refers to “Esther Donnelly” a few times; are they actually the same person? Was Donnelly really the narrator’s lost love? Are they perhaps different parts of the narrator himself? Does the narrator even exists for that matter? These are not questions that the game answers.

It’s amazing to see how indie game devs are really pushing the boundaries of what can be done with games. Games such as “Dear Esther” show that there is such a huge potential for telling meaningful stories in the medium. While it may sound strange at first to use a game to convey a story like this, it actually was the perfect choice. The story is one of discovery (as much as you discover anyways), and by using an interactive media, we are actually making the discoveries for ourselves. As the drive to reach the top increases as the game moves on, it is not just the character that is driven, but ourselves that is driven. We aren’t just contemplating the death of a character, but the death of ourselves. By using the format of a game, it becomes much more introspective, and much more personal.


Dear Ester Trailer (1)

(1) Briscoe, Robert. “Dear Esther.” Dear Esther. Available: http://dear-esther.com/
(2) [H|G]~Modred189~ “Dear Esther Screenshots”. Steam Community. 19 Februrary, 2012. Available: http://steamcommunity.com/id/Modred189/screenshots/?tab=public&showdate=1&filter=app_203810

Atheist vs Agnostic vs Pantheist vs…a matter of semantics

Christina over at WWJTD posted a blog entry talking about Dawkins’ debate with Dr. Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury. (1) During this debate Dawkins reiterated that he was not 100% certain that god(s) does not exist. Of course this isn’t anything new to those of us who have read The God Delusion (2) and have been around the movement for a while. It also isn’t surprising, just a little depressing, that some religious organizations and individuals have declared “Victory! Dawkins is not an atheist! He’s one step away from joining the dark side!” (okay, maybe not quite that last part about the dark side).

Dawkins is an atheist; there really is no debate over this. Any claim to the contrary is caused by a disconnect in semantics. There are differing opinions on what the terms “atheist,” “agnostic,” and even “theist” mean, but there is a general consensus with which to work. As I’m sure you have guessed, the naysayers don’t use the consensus definition. There are two similar schools of thought that I think accurately codify the consensus, although there are slight variances between them.

Graph of Belief

Graph of Belief (3)

The first is one described by Peter Brietbart as a 2 dimensional graph. The terms atheist, agnostic, and theist aren’t points along a single dimension, but rather answer two separate questions that together form a worldview, and thus a location on this graph. Along one axis is the answer to the question “Do you think there is a god or gods?” with gnostic and agnostic representing the certainty of the answer. Along the other axis is the answer to the question “Do you believe in a god or gods?” with theist and atheist being at the two ends of the axis. These questions may seem at first glance to ask the same thing, but there is a subtle yet important difference. The first question allows for a very shaded answer; answers can be “yes,” “no,” “we can’t know for certain, so maybe,” and all sorts of other possibilities. The second question is narrower though; answers are pretty much just “yes,” or “no.” There can be various strengths of “yes” and “no”, but “I don’t know” cannot be the answer because the question asks what you believe, which, by definition, is opinion. (3)

To illustrate the point, let’s consider a thought experiment. We can debate all day long whether or not “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” (4) is the greatest rock album of all time. The question is one that inquires about the truthiness of the greatness of the album. We can honestly answer “I don’t know” to this question, and indeed probably should answer this way because of the sheer complexity of the question. However, the personal question of “Is Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band my favorite album?” is different. It either is or it isn’t. If you don’t have a favorite album because it’s impossible to choose (a legitimate position), then the answer to “Is Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band your favorite album?” is unquestionably no, because you don’t have a favorite album. There can really only be one of two answers, “yes” or “no.” If you think don’t know the answer, then the answer is really no because you don’t already have a favorite album.

The Greatest Album of All Time?

The Greatest Album of All Time? (5)

With this approach, what Dawkins refers to as an “atheist” and what the naysayers refer to as an “agnostic” are really both “agnostic atheist.” The majority of Christians, I suspect (but do not have evidence to support), are “gnostic theists,” with a fairly large minority of “agnostic theists.” Personally I like this definition and tend to use it myself. For the record, I’m an agnostic atheist and gather that most atheists are agnostic atheists.

The second approach is the one used by Dawkins in The God Delusion and describes belief on a sliding scale from 1 to 7, much like the Kinsey scale. (5) On this scale, a person who has a complete belief in god(s) and believes that there is 0% chance they are wrong is assigned a value of 1 (notice how it correlates with being completely heterosexual on the Kinsey scale). On the opposite end, a person who has a complete disbelief in god(s) and believes that there is 0% chance they are wrong is assigned a value of 7. Dawkins places himself as a 6.9 on this scale, and I tend to place myself somewhere between that and a 6.5.

So where does an “agnostic” sit on this scale? It depends on your definition. According to a “dictionary atheist” or the naysayers mentioned above, anything less than a 7 is an agnostic. Of course this cuts both ways; such a belief also implies that anything greater than a 1 is also an agnostic, although we don’t exactly see people falling over each other to complete this dichotomy by calling 99.99% of all religious people “agnostic.” According to most of us in the non-belief camp (and many in the belief camp as well) an agnostic is, in practice, probably something below a 5-6 but above a 2-3, give or take. I mustn’t be remiss to point out that giving any hard cutoff is doomed to failure, and that agnostic is more like a fuzzy region in the middle part of the scale.

Richard Dawkins

Richard Dawkins (3)

These two approaches are very similar and tend to provide similar results. I tend to prefer the former, because it provides a richer set of information than the latter, but the latter is easier to use and comprehend. I also tend to view the latter as representing a diagonal line along the former, going from gnostic theist to gnostic atheist. This view does require one change: the y-axis is transformed such that it goes from gnostic to agnostic on one side, and agnostic to gnostic on the other (yay non-linear vector space transformations!), but it’s more or less the same.

With this view, I tend to view the debates over whether or not someone is an atheist, agnostic, etc as kinda stupid. Any attempt to tell someone else that they are label X is an exercise in futility. The use of these labels merely serves to pigeon hole people who don’t necessarily fit those holes. Once someone is unwillingly shoved into one of these holes, then it becomes very difficult not to create strawman arguments based on this label. Everyone in all corners of the spectrum just needs to take labels, self-reported or otherwise, with a grain of salt until a clearer picture has been formed of the person through discussion. Otherwise it’s just a waste of time.

(1) Christina. “Richard Dawkins: not an Atheist?” WWJTD. 25th February, 2012. Available: http://freethoughtblogs.com/wwjtd/2012/02/25/richard-dawkins-not-an-atheist/
(2) Dawkins, Richard. The God Delusion. Mariner Books, 2006.
(3) Brietbart, Peter. “Atheist, Gnostic, Theist, Agnostic.” The Freethinker. 25th September, 2009. Available: http://freethinker.co.uk/2009/09/25/8419/
(4) “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” Wikipedia. Available: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sgt._Pepper%27s_Lonely_Hearts_Club_Band
(5) “Spectrum of theistic probability.” Wikipedia. Available: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spectrum_of_theistic_probability

An Atheist in Jesus land.

I’m beginning to write this on a plane traveling back to California from Roswell, NM where I traveled for a wedding, and it has been an eye opening experience. I had been to Roswell many times when I was younger to visit family, but I hadn’t been back there since I became an atheist several years ago. It’s amazing how much the rose-tinted glasses of religion altered my perception of the town. Roswell, NM is famous for the “UFO crash” in 1947, but the locals don’t really seem to believe those stories much (for them, UFO stands for “Unlimited Financial Opportunity”). Their delusion, however, is about 2 millenia older; the religiosity of the town was just dumbfounding.

Ten Commandments Monument

Ten Commandments Monument (1)

Symbolizing the level of religious delusion, I think, is their proud display of the ten commandments on the lawn of the county courthouse. This monument isn’t inside where the only people who see it are locals there on business. It isn’t sitting next to the building where it would blend in, or even facing the building for that matter. It is blatantly positioned right next to the highway so that drivers passing by will see it…proselytizing to anyone who drives by, which is a lot considering that the courthouse is situated on the main highway passing through the town. It’s basically a big “fuck you” to anyone who isn’t Christian or Jewish. It’s also as if they are just daring someone to speak out against it. Perhaps not coincidentally, there is a World War II era canon on the courthouse lawn just a few dozen feet away.

If someone were to speak out against this monument, I have little doubt that the town would react with a vengeance at least as strong as that seen with Jessica Ahlquist, Damon Fowler, et al. I get the distinct impression that virtually the entire town is fundamentalist Christian, and they really aren’t accustomed to dealing with dissent. I also suspect that the majority of Christians there aren’t the Easter/Christmas Christians either. For what it’s worth I did send a note to the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico about the monument, but since I’m a Californian I don’t have standing and can’t really do much about it.

Liquor store religious sign

Liquor store religious sign (3)

Religion was absolutely everywhere in the town. If a display wasn’t about aliens, it was about Christianity. I saw business signs that incorporated the fish logo, even though those businesses had nothing to do with religion. I saw liquor stores with signs saying “God Bless You” on them (that was good for a laugh, I admit). I would estimate that around 20% to 30% of all billboards were religious; sometimes of the generic “find Jesus or burn in hell” sort, but typically advertising for a church.

The churches were probably the most disturbing thing I saw. They were everywhere. In a town of 48,366 (2), there are 58 churches according to the yellow pages (3)! That’s 1.2 churches per thousand people! For comparison, the city I live in in Silicon Valley has 0.6 churches per thousand people and, given the wide diversity of faiths here, the number of places of worship would normally be expected to be higher than a more homogenous place like Roswell. Many of the churches in Roswell looked brand new and very expensive. I cannot begin to fathom how much money has been spent on churches there. What makes it truly disturbing is that Roswell is a very poor town, where the median income is just $36,237 with 21.8% of people living below the poverty line. By comparison, the national median income is considerably higher at $51,914, with only 13.8% of people living below the poverty line. (4) Seeing half-collapsed buildings are a common occurrence, and most of the houses have visible signs of decay. You can almost see the buildings crumbling before your eyes. It’s a stark reminder of how much poverty there really is in the US. To see all of these people struggling so much, and then to see how much money is going to these churches really really makes me angry!

Nice church next to a trailer park

Nice church next to a trailer park (5)

Just being there was oppressive. It didn’t matter that I didn’t interact with many people and didn’t experience much proselytizing (I haven’t come out to that side of the family yet), I still felt incredibly stifled. I was constantly on edge the entire weekend. It seemed like there wasn’t a moment that went by that I wasn’t reminded of the religiosity of the town. I don’t think I’ve ever been happier to be flying back to San Francisco.

What is equally amazing is that I never even noticed how religious it was before. I did a little digging and the ten commandments monument was definitely up last time I was there, but I didn’t notice it. I didn’t notice all of the churches, I didn’t notice all the ads, and in general I didn’t notice how prominent Christianity is there. I’m shocked at how effective the blinders of religion are. I only had to spend a few days there; I can’t imagine what it must be like to have lived your whole life there. There are people suffering under these oppressive conditions all around the country. It was a brutal reminder of how important our movement truly is. It’s not just about preventing atheists from being harassed, although it is that. It’s not just about upholding the law when others are content to break it, although it is that too. This is about allowing people to life their lives as they see fit. This is about preventing the ostracization of minorities everywhere. This is about creating a world where ancient superstition doesn’t govern a nation.

(1) Frysinger, Galen R. “Roswell, New Mexico.” Available: http://www.galenfrysinger.com/new_mexico_roswell.htm
(2) “Roswell, New Mexico.” Wikipedia. Available: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roswell,_New_Mexico
(3) “Yellow Pages.” Superpages. Available: http://www.superpages.com/
(4) “State and County QuickFacts.” U.S. Census Bureau. Available: http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/index.html
(5) “Church on the Move.” Jesse M. Harris, Architect. Available: http://www.lpdj.com/projects/Move.htm

Why don’t Christians understand the separation of church and state?

The reactions of the Cranston, Rhode Island Christian majority to the result of Jessica Ahlquist’s lawsuit has gotten me thinking. Just why is it that Christians don’t understand the concept of separation of church and state? They certainly disagree with the concept, but I think that, just as importantly, they have some misconceptions about it.

First, some background for those that aren’t familiar with the Ahlquist case. At Cranston West High School in 1963, a banner was created titled “School Prayer” containing the following text:

Our Heavenly Father.

Grant us each day the desire to do our best.
To grow mentally and morally as well as physically.
To be kind and helpful to our classmates and teachers.
To be honest with ourselves as well as with others.
Help us to be good sports and smile when we lose as well as when we win.
Teach us the value of true friendship.
Help us always to conduct ourselves so as to bring credit to Cranston High School West.

Amen.

Jessica Ahlquist

Jessica Ahlquist (2)

This banner still hung in the gym when Ahlquist, an atheist, began attending. During her sophomore year, the ACLU sent a letter on behalf of an anonymous parent (presumably not Ahlquist’s parents) to the school requesting the banner be removed since it is obviously illegal. When Ahlquist learned of the letter, she began attending school board meetings to try and persuade the board to remove the banner. After multiple failed attempts, she filed a lawsuit with the help of the ACLU against the school and won (obviously). (1) Before, during, and after the trial, Ahlquist has faced a great deal of push-back from the Christian majority in Cranston, including threats of violence. She has had to have a police escort at school, and her state senator even called her an “evil little thing.” (2)

Many arguments have been put up in defense of the banner, and many arguments have been made about how the lawsuit is part of our evil plot to get the government to support the religion of atheism. Obviously these arguments incredibly inane and not even remotely based in reality, but nonetheless they are being made. As an example, see this comment from the comments section in the Providence newspaper (3):

As an analogy to hanging a banner with a verse on the wall of a public building that our citizens are exposed to, I fear that at some point in the future, the legal process on this issue will evolve to the point that houses of worship will not be allowed to front public streets. After all, citizens pass them bye while traveling said public streets and the separation purists certainly will not allow that will they?

Why do so many Christians always seem to think that our efforts in enforcing the separation of church and state are really efforts to outlaw faith? I have been pondering this question lately, and I have a few hypotheses.

"Help! We're Being Oppressed"

"Help! We're Being Oppressed" (4)

A common hypothesis that comes up is that these Christians have enjoyed majority status for a very long time, such that they don’t know what it’s like to be a minority. They don’t know what it’s like to experience real religious prejudice, so to them anything that hampers their ability to what they want is viewed as a grave injustice and a violation of their rights. I do think this is true, but I don’t think it’s the only reason, and maybe not even the primary reason.

Another hypothesis I have is that these Christians have a lack of basic understanding of the law and our governmental structure. There are two common misconceptions that I see rather often. The first is that the government is only forbidden from establishing a government church. I think the reason for this comes from a reading of the First Amendment in a vacuum.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof (5)

As worded, the amendment does seem to imply that it only forbids the US Congress from writing legislature that favors one religion over another, but anything else is allowed (side note: how do people take this wording to mean that congress is only forbidden from establishing a state church? It’s quite the leap). What these types of people fail to take into account is that the constitution does not exist in a vacuum since we are a common law nation, but instead must be considered with the history of the Supreme Court and other legislation, namely Everson v. Board of Education and the 14th Amendment (the constitution applies to federal and local government). The second misconception that I see often is that legislation passed by “majority rule” has the highest level of precedence. The most obvious example of this is the backlash against the recent Proposition 8 ruling. Rick Santorum even stated (6):

We need judges who respect the people’s voice. Let the people decide with respect to what the Constitution says.

That is simply not how our government works. The US Constitution is the supreme law of the land. Nothing can override it except another constitutional amendment. At all. Period. End of discussion. Yet Christians don’t seem to understand this and so we get so many instances of “those damn judges are ignoring the will of the people.” Judges aren’t ignoring the will of the people, they just simply recognize that the Constitution trumps the will of the people.

Let's just go with "First Amendment"

Let's just go with "First Amendment" (7)

My third hypothesis is that these types of people tend to not really care about the law. They tend to go on and on about “I live and die by the Constitution” and “Government should get out of our lives so we can be free,” but they don’t really believe those things. Instead, they see the government beginning to crack down on laws supporting their beliefs, whether it’s no prayer in school, outlawing abortion, or banning gay marriage. They see these actions as the government intervening in their lives, and as a result they are experiencing a loss in freedom. Technically they are correct, too. They are loosing their freedom to illegally use the government to advance their personal beliefs in spite of the constitution. What they fail to realize is that, in these instances, the government is actually making our society more free, not less. Then again, maybe they do realize that this is the case…

It’s important to note that I used the term “hypothesis” here, not “theory.” I did this intentionally because I do not have strong data to support these hypotheses, just personal observation and a lot of reading, but they seem reasonable. What can be done about this? We just keep doing what we do…calling out their stupidity and doing our best to educate the public. We are already seeing a decline in religious attendance, and much of it is due to increased education. Education is the key to everything, and societies always become more educated over time, not less. Time is on our side, we just have to endure in the mean time.

(1) “Jessica Ahlquist.” Wikipedia. Available: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jessica_Ahlquist
(2) Goodnough, Abby. “Student Faces Town’s Wrath in Protest Against a Prayer.” The New York Times. 26th January, 2012. Available: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/27/us/rhode-island-city-enraged-over-school-prayer-lawsuit.html
(3) Dujardin, Richard C. “Federal judge orders ‘immediate’ removal of Cranston school prayer mural; appeal unlikely .” The Providence Journal. 11th January, 2011. Available: http://news.providencejournal.com/breaking-news/2012/01/federal-judge-o-1.html#.TzXtjl0Xuca
(4) “Help! We’re Being Oppressed!” Reddit. Available: http://www.reddit.com/r/atheism/comments/dy84p/help_were_being_oppressed/
(5) “First Amendment to the United States Constitution.” Wikipedia. Available: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_Amendment_to_the_United_States_Constitution
(6) Savage, David G. “Santorum decries ‘judicial tyranny’ in Prop. 8 ruling.” Los Angeles Times. 12th Februaru, 2012. Available: http://www.latimes.com/news/politics/la-santorum-decries-judicial-tyranny-in-prop-8-case-20120212,0,2601434.story
(7) Tristam, Pierre. “Deconstructing the Bill of Rights.” Candide’s Notebooks. 23rd February, 2007. Available: http://pierretristam.com/Bobst/07/cn022307.htm

Misogyny in the atheist community…again

So once again, the topic of gender equality has had to be dragged out and explained one…more…time… (1) (2) (3) (4) (5). The last article (5) by Greta Christina is especially pointed (if you haven’t read it, do so right now). In the comments, an astute reader posited that the misogyny issues we are grappling with is our “hot-button” issue for our community, just like pedophilia is Catholicism’s hot-button issue. These types of events are unfortunately bound to happen once a community has a large number of members (expected value increases), but how the community reacts to such events is not just a matter of probability. It says something more fundamental about the community.

Misogynistic Conversation on Facebook

Misogynistic Conversation on Facebook (5)

When we look at the priest sex abuse scandals, there doesn’t appear to be (to me at least) that there is much internal conflict within the church on how to deal with this. Catholics mostly seem to just brush it away (“They aren’t really Christians”), and chalk it up to a few bad apples. This says to me that the average Catholic does not care about this issue, and by extension does not care about solving this issue. Very few Catholics are actually pedophiles, but by not taking an assertive stance against that incredibly small minority that are, Catholicism as a whole has been hurt, with membership declining faster than other denominations (6). Normally I would be incredibly happy to see church membership declining, but this is not a good reason why.

In many ways, the issues we face with misogyny in the atheist community appears to be having a similar, if somewhat muted, effect. When one of our movement’s best bloggers writes a post about her desires to rage-quite the movement (7), there is a problem. The number of actual misogynistic assholes in the movement is, I’m sure, quite low, but when we don’t try to address these issues when they come up, we make our movement weaker.

There is hope though. Beginning with Elevatorgate, we are beginning to speak up about these instances. Progress is being made. I have certainly learned a lot from the discussion of these events. While I wouldn’t consider myself as having been misogynistic like the guys that were discussed, my views on feminism and the state of female equality were definitely skewed. It has been through these discussions that my opinions have changed for the better, and I doubt I’m the only one.

(1) Watson, Rebecca. “Reddit Makes Me Hate Atheists.” Skepchick. 27th December, 2011. Available: http://skepchick.org/2011/12/reddit-makes-me-hate-atheists/
(2) McCreight, Jen. “The straw woman of the skeptical movement.” Blag Hag. 2nd January, 2012. Available: http://freethoughtblogs.com/blaghag/2012/01/the-straw-woman-of-the-skeptical-movement/
(3) Mehta, Hemant. “Accounting for Accumulation.” Friendly Atheist. 5th January, 2012. Available: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2012/01/05/accounting-for-accumulation/
(4) Christina, Greta. “Why “Yes, But” Is the Wrong Response to Misogyny.” Greta Christina’s Blog. 29th December, 2011. Available: http://freethoughtblogs.com/greta/2011/12/29/why-yes-but-is-the-wrong-response-to-misogyny/
(5) Christina, Greta. “Two Questions for DJ Grothe.” Greta Christina’s Blog. 9th January, 2012. Available: http://freethoughtblogs.com/greta/2012/01/09/two-questions-for-dj-grothe/
(6) “NCC’s 2009 Yearbook of American & Canadian Churches reports decline in Catholic, Southern Baptist membership.” National Council of Churches. 23rd February, 2009. Available: http://www.ncccusa.org/news/090130yearbook1.html
(7) McCreight, Jen. “Drama.” Blag Hag. 10th January, 2012. Available: http://freethoughtblogs.com/blaghag/2012/01/drama/

P.S. Sorry for the lack of updates lately. I’ve been swamped at work plus the traveling for the holiday’s, so I have had very little time for much else. Things should be more or less returning to normal over the next week or two though.

Farewell Christopher Hitchens

As I am sure everyone has already heard, Christopher Hitchens passed away on December 16th. Richard Dawkins has a wonderful eulogy at (1). I discovered Hitchens rather late in life. The first time I ever saw him speak was on a Penn & Teller Bullshit! episode, where I wondered “just who is this guy downing scotch and cigarettes like there’s no tomorrow.”

My respect for him has certainly grown over the years, and I think he was one of our movement’s best speakers. He embodied the idea of a skeptic so well…he always had his own opinions, and one was hard-pressed to infer his opinion on any given subject until he spoke on it. Never the crowd-follower, he showed us all that we should always question groupthink, in all of its forms.

After his diagnosis, he showed us even more what it means to be a skeptic and a humanist. I am still in awe at how he handled his inevitability with such grace and aplomb. His courage in the face of death is truly an inspiration to us all. More than anything, he showed us through his actions that religion is not necessary for dealing with death.

Hitches was truly a great human being, that rare one-of-a-kind who was both passionate and measured. The skeptic community, and indeed the world at large is poorer for his loss. We shall miss him.

(1) Dawkins, Richard. “Illness made Hitchens a symbol of the honesty and dignity of atheism.” The Independent. 17th December, 2011. Available: http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/richard-dawkins-illness-made-hitchens-a-symbol-of-the-honesty-and-dignity-of-atheism-6278298.html