atheism

Blag Hag Grab Bag 9/10/13

Today’s theme is how elated I am to not be officially involved with the atheist movement anymore:

Belated raging

Today I found out from my dad that when my mom was in the hospital recovering from a serious surgery to remove the tumors from her ovarian cancer, some evangelical Christians came into her room uninvited during a rare moment when my dad was away to try to convert her and ask if she’s heard the good word about her lord and savior Jesus Christ.

Is there anything more fucking reprehensible than preying on the vulnerable who are recovering from a near death experience and undergoing a battle with stage 4 cancer? It fucking disgusts me.

They should consider themselves damned lucky that my dad and I weren’t there, because we would have NOT been friendly atheists.

Assholes.

No, Rick Warren, we’re not “all mentally ill”

Rick Warren, pastor of the infamous Saddleback Church, recently gave a sermon where he attempted to de-stigmatize mental illness…but did the opposite. Warren, whose son suffered from borderline personality disorder and recently committed suicide, said “We’re all mentally ill” and “You have fears, you have worries, you have doubts, you have compulsions, you have attractions…”

Greta Christina has a great response up at Salon:

Mental illness is many things. But there’s one thing it most emphatically is not — and that is everyday fears, worries, doubts, and attractions. (Of the items on Warren’s list, “compulsions” is the only one that belongs.) Seeing mental illness as ordinary emotions is a fundamentally flawed view,  one that harms people actually living with such illness.

It’s common for people with mental illness to have our illnesses treated as just life’s ups and downs. People with clinical depression are seen as just mopey or sad; people with clinical anxiety are seen as just worriers; people with obsessive compulsive disorder are seen as just neat freaks. But these attitudes trivialize mental illness. They frame it as something people should be able to handle on our own — and make any failure to do so seem like a character flaw, a weakness of will.

Read the whole piece here.

Her (recent) conference assault

Ashley Paramore has released a much-watch video about her recent conference assault at the 2012 Amazing Meeting in Las Vegas. Sadly, the adjective “recent” is necessary since this is hardly the first or second or third time Ashley has had this unfortunate experience at one of the many atheist and skeptical conferences she has attended.

Thank you, Ashley, for sharing this. She goes more in depth about this in the video, but speaking out about harassment and assault is difficult. If you’ve been paying any attention at all to… well, the internet over the last couple of years, you know the kind of horrible treatment that women get for speaking out about these things. When she was employed within the atheist movement, she was too worried that speaking out about her assaults would negatively affect her job and future job prospects. Thank you for having the strength to speak up now.

And I also have to thank the JREF for handling her situation well. They’ve received a lot of flack lately, but I have to give credit where credit is due.

Hopefully this video and the harassment policies that have been implemented across cons will help more women feel safe to speak about their experiences and make atheist spaces safe spaces.

No atheists in Intensive Care Units

One week had passed since I flew out to be with my mom. Our spirits were high thanks to recent progress – my mom had woken up, seemed to have all of her mental faculties and remember who we were, and was just getting enough strength to communicate by pointing at letters on a board. The fact that those things sounds so insignificant should tell you just how bad things had been.

My dad and I were going through our new routine – sitting next to my mom in the ICU while she slept. We kept pretty quiet to try to not to disturb her, since good sleep in the ICU was rare. This unit was grandfathered in, which meant there were no walls between patients despite that being the new regulation. And I can see why that regulation passed. Machines beeped and droned constantly. Visitors yacked loudly on cellphones making personal calls (against a rule that apparently no one would enforce). But the worst was when something was going wrong. One patient tried to tear out all of his tubes while swearing up a storm and thrashing around the unit. Even more disturbing was when nurses would swarm a patient when something was going terribly wrong.

It wasn’t a good place for the kind of peaceful rest you need after you almost died.

But since my dad and I were trying not to make my mom’s space any noisier than it already was, we mostly sat and listened. And I’ll always remember one of the conversations we silently listened to, only communicating with each other through mutual eye rolls.

A man had been admitted in the bed next to my mom for triple bypass surgery (yes, you hear that much detail and more – if I had been taking notes I could have told you his whole medical history and current medications…so much for medical privacy). It seemed to have been pretty routine and uncomplicated – he had been wheeled out and back and was pretty much instantly looking back to normal. He was immediately eating solid food while resting in his lazy boy. To put things into perspective, my mom had just been given her first nutrient IV bag after almost a week of no food at all, and still couldn’t stand.

The man called a nurse and she promptly came to help him with what he needed. He said to her, “My brother says if you thank nurses, you get better service. So I guess I should say thank you.”

The nurse looked at him incredulously for one moment before squeezing a “you’re welcome” through gritted teeth.

I was kind of stunned. Who thinks that way? You think the only reason you should be polite and thank someone is because you selfishly want better service? You know, not because that nurse was part of a team that saved your life? More so, who says that out loud without realizing how incredibly rude it is?

It irritated me, but I tried to ignore it. Maybe he was hopped up on drugs or something. Maybe he was just a jerk. Whatever. I didn’t need to worry about him because I was just happy my mom was alive. (And to illustrate one of the reasons I love my mom: After she was able to communicate clearly through writing, she overheard the nurses placing an order for their dinners over the phone, and she tried to insist that we pay for her nurse’s meal since she had been taking such good care of her all week. The nurse politely declined, but that’s the kind of lady my mom is – even in sickness she’s thinking about others.)

Pretty soon his family filed in to visit. My irritation returned because the conversation for the next couple hours can be summarized as “Praise Jesus and the power of prayer for this successful surgery.”

Excuse me? Praise Jesus? Praise prayer? This coming from the same guy who only thanked his nurse because he wanted better service? Yes, let’s snub the human being who was instrumental in your medical care and instead pat ourselves on the back for clasping our hands together and wishing things go well. Let’s thank Jesus but not the doctors and nurses who have devoted their lives toward training to do this. And definitely not the scientists and engineers who developed the methods for your survival. Thank Jesus.

The arrogance of it drove me mad. They probably found their religious beliefs comforting, and never considered what this may sound like to people around them, since in Indiana it’s pretty much assumed you’re a Christian. It’s not just the snubbing of science that irritated me. It made me think, “Why do you think your God saved your husband, but put my mom through so much pain? Why is he worth saving but she’s made to suffer through all of this? What kind, just God would do that?”

That’s when I was glad I was an atheist in that ICU. While my Greek Orthodox grandparents were weeping and distraught, asking me desperately why God would punish my mother like this, I understood that nothing divine decided this.  It did not reflect a flaw in my mother’s character or some sin that god was punishing. It did not reflect the frequency of prayers from all the church lists she had been added to, nor was it punishment for having rabid atheists for a husband and daughter. It was bad luck, a random mutation in the wrong spot at the wrong time.

I was distraught enough over my mother’s well-being – I’m glad I didn’t have to be distraught over god’s will as well.

Indiana high schoolers want to ban gays from prom

It seems like not much has changed since I was an Indiana high school student:

A team of Valley high schoolers and parents rally for a separate prom that bans gays.

NBC 2’s Paige Preusse reports how Sullivan High School says there’s nothing legally they can do to allow it… several students and parents are taking matters into their own hands.

Several parents, students, and others who believe gays should be banned from the Sullivan High School prom met Sunday at the Sullivan First Christian Church.

“We don’t agree with it and it’s offensive to us,” said Diana Medley.

Their idea is to create their own separate…traditional prom. Students say there are several others from their high school who agree, but are afraid to take a stand.

“If we can get a good prom then we can convince more people to come and follow what they believe,” said student Kynon Johnson.

And now they want everyone to know where they stand.

“We want to make the public see that we love the homosexuals, but we don’t think it’s right nor should it be accepted,” said a local student.

We love you…but you’re offensive, wrong, and shouldn’t be accepted. Um, that’s kind of the antithesis of love, guys.

Diana Medley is a special education teacher in town. She doesn’t believe anyone is born gay.

“I believe that it was life circumstances and they chose to be that way; God created everyone equal,” said Medley.

“Homosexual students come to me with their problems, and I don’t agree with them, but I care about them. It’s the same thing with my special needs kids, I think God puts everyone in our lives for a reason,” said Madley.

“‘So the same goes for gays? Do you think they have a purpose in life?’ No I honestly don’t. Sorry, but I don’t. I don’t understand it. A gay person isn’t going to come up and make some change unless it’s to realize that it was a choice and they’re choosing God,” said Medley.

Your gay students have no purpose in life? That’s how you “care” about someone? This is how you talk about your students who are coming to you for fucking help? I can only hope that she’s not pushing her “you must choose God” bullshit on the special ed students trapped in her classroom.

Several local pastors support the separate prom movement.

“Christians have always been prepared for a fight. Jesus gave us armor for the front, not the back; we’re not running anymore,” said Bill Phegley with Carlisle Church.

Are you fucking kidding me? This is all about how the poor little Christians are being persecuted when you’re the ones banning LGBT students?!

If the thought of a girl dancing with a girl or a guy dancing with a guy unnerves you that much, that’s you’re fucking problem. Don’t go to prom. You don’t get to ban people because they give you the willies because we have separation of church and state in this country, which means you can keep your stupid fucking ass-backwards delusions to yourself and not force it on your fellow students.

Yeah, I’m mad. This pisses me off more than usual. You know why? Because I spent my high school years desperately defending my LGBT friends. When I overheard people saying “that’s gay” as an insult or calling someone a fag, I was the first to step in and tell them that it was offensive and unacceptable. When I was standing in lunch line and people would be talking about how disgusting my lesbian friends were, oblivious that I was friends with those ‘fucking dykes,” you know what I did? I spoke up. I told them they were fucking bigots and if they had a problem with my friends, they had a problem with me. And they shrunk into silenced fear in front of me, only to spread rumors that I was obviously a lesbian throughout the whole school. As if that would insult me.

When my lesbian friend wanted to start a Gay Straight Alliance to combat the constant bullying she faced from other students, I was the VP so I could do everything to help her organize. And she needed all the help she could get, since no one else wanted to help her. No teachers would be the adviser for the club because it was career suicide. The principal wouldn’t allow us to be an official group because we were “non-academic” and if he let us in, he’d have to let in other non-academic clubs like a “Nazi group” (his example). This was despite the fact that my high school already had plenty of non-academic clubs.

When my friend’s mom threatened to sue their asses off since what they were doing was blatantly illegal, the principal eased off…a little. He let us meet in a side room of the library, but wouldn’t let us be an official club. He let us put up flyers advertising our meetings, but the flyers couldn’t contain the words “gay,” “lesbian,” “bisexual,” “GLBT,” “sex,” or “sexual orientation” because they were “inappropriate for high school students.” When we came to our meetings, most of the time the librarians purposefully locked us out so we wouldn’t be able to meet. When we complained, nothing happened. The Fellowship of Christian Athletes, on the other hand, got plenty of meeting space and was allowed to freely advertise throughout the school despite technically being “unofficial.”

And when prom rolled around, they wouldn’t sell my friend and her girlfriend a couple’s ticket because those were only for “real couples” – aka a boy and a girl – because they didn’t want two female friends buddying up to just get a discounted rate. Instead they would have to buy more expensive individual tickets if they wanted to go, and would not get any of the couple ticket benefits (a balloon with your names on it, a couple photo, and basic fucking dignity).

Instead they told the school to go fuck themselves and went to a Star Wars convention, where they were accepted and had a blast.

My lesbian friends were the lucky ones. They were able to be out because they had supportive parents, and also because lesbianism is often more accepted. Especially when you happen to be really attractive lesbians, so all the bigoted straight dudes in the school can sexually objectify you instead of only bullying you. But my gay male friends? They were all hidden in the closet, and terrified at being outed. They might have been out to a couple close friends, but I found so many of my classmates coming out once they had escaped to college. It made me sadder. If I had known what those people were feeling in high school, I would have been an ally to them too.

And you know why I’m still so angry? Because even though I graduated 7 years ago, and even though students have been desperately trying to form a GSA every one of those years, they are still being stonewalled by the school administration. There’s still no GSA and students are still constantly bullied because of their sexual orientation. And this is in a town that’s part of the “liberal” part of Indiana.

And the Christian students are the ones who are being persecuted?

Why did I do all of these things? Why did I care so passionately about gay rights even though it didn’t personally affect me? Not because my parents “brainwashed” me to support gay rights or subscribe to some liberal agenda. We never discussed the topic, honestly. My parents just taught me to be a person who is kind to others. That’s all.

It saddens me that these Christian students have been taught to hate instead.

I’ve figured out why the Vatican hoards its wealth!

St. Peter’s Basilica is not actually named that because of its architecture, but for the Basilisk living beneath it! Lore tells of Basilisks converting various substances into gold, which explains the Vatican’s enormous wealth!! It also explains why they’re so reluctant to give the wealth away, because the evil Basilisk will turn the Pope into stone as revenge!!!! Quick, we need to find a wizard and a goblin forged blade!!!!!!!!!!!!

Wait. I think I’m crossing my mythologies. Catholics don’t believe in silly things like Basilisks or goblins. They believe in crackers that magically turn into flesh and people rising from the dead. My bad, it’s all so confusing. I blame the NyQuil.

How about we sell the Vatican instead?

I have a feeling Catholics won’t like my solution to their monetary problems. But you see, times are tough. The LA Archdiocese alone has lost $660 million to those pesky victims of child rape. This is their solution:

The non-profit Guidance in Giving lists the Los Angeles-area Catholic Church among its “diocesan accounts” and says it is exploring a campaign to raise $200 million for the diocese to meet “a variety of needs,” including “priests’ retirement, seminarian education, Catholic schools, Catholic Charities and parish needs.”

The archdiocese did not respond to NBC queries in time for publication, but a church spokesman acknowledged the possible campaign to the Los Angeles Times, which first reported it.

In 2007, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles agreed to a $660 million settlement with 562 victims of abuse by priests and other church personnel. According to the Times, financial reports show that the church remains $80 million in debt.

Yes, a $200 million fundraiser. Presumably these funds would be donated from Catholic constituents, who obviously have no better way to spend their money than giving it to a church that’s been covering up hundreds of cases of child rape by priests. Food? Clothing? Housing? Education? Meh, what’s more important than avoiding the threat eternal damnation in a lake of fire?

Not coercive at all, nope.

But here’s an idea. Instead of relying on poor and middle class Catholics to save your child-molesting ass, why not get help from the head honcho? The Vatican’s worth is somewhere between 10 and 15 billion dollars. To save the Los Angeles diocese, the Vatican would have to sell a couple pieces from their mind bogglingly enormous art collection or maybe melt down a couple of the solid gold objects that are just lying around St. Peter’s Basilica.

Oddly enough, the Vatican seems more interested in hoarding its wealth than sharing it. They’ve previously been exempt from about a billion dollars of taxes annually, though that might soon change. And if you’ve ever been to the Vatican, seeing the wealth is amazing. I was lucky enough to visit Rome when I was 12, after visiting my aging Greek relatives in Athens for the first time. When I went to the Vatican with my parents, my main reactions were:

  1. Huh, the Sistine Chapel is smaller than I expected.
  2. Why do I have to wear a stupid dress when the guys get to wear pants?
  3. This is beautiful, but do they really need this much money when there are homeless people begging for food right outside the doors?

I must be missing something.

Obama caves to religious pressure on birth control debate

Atheist feminist rage activated:

Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services, said the proposal would guarantee free coverage of birth control “while respecting religious concerns.”

Churches and religious organizations that object to providing birth control coverage on religious grounds would not have to pay for it.

Under the proposal, female employees could get free birth control coverage through a separate plan that would be provided by a health insurer. The institution objecting to the coverage would not pay for the contraceptives. The costs would instead be paid by the insurance company, with the possibility of recouping the costs through lower health care expenses resulting in part from fewer births.

Sigh.

Look, I know that in the grand scheme of things, women will still receive their free birth control even if their employers decide its their prerogative to force their religious beliefs on their employees. At least the Obama administration hasn’t completely fucked over women in this situation.

But it’s the principle of the matter. Religious organizations should not receive special privileges from the government since that explicitly violates the first amendment. These religious organizations love to cry that they’re the ones defended by the first amendment, but that’s false. If you’re religious and your health insurance covers birth control, no one is forcing you to use that birth control. If an employer doesn’t want their employees using birth control, tough shit. You don’t get to enforce your religious beliefs on others.

The only reason this is even a debate is because Catholics make up a substantial part of the US population so they’re able to cause a bigger stink. If a Jehovah’s Witness employer wanted to ban all of their employees from ever receiving blood transfusions, would Obama have caved? If a Muslim employer decides you can’t spend any of your paycheck on pork products, would that have been okay? Religious organizations should have to pay for birth control coverage just like every other organization instead of receiving special privileges. Instead, religious organizations threw a temper tantrum and Obama responded by buying them metaphorical ice cream.

I get email?!?!?!

“Hi Jennifer,
Have a good time!
I have seen your blog and wondered about your activities.
you are active, honest, lover of nature, and a girl with grate fillings.
After reading your blog, I have wondered how such woman with such open mind, can disclaim her creator or her God !!!!??
Do you really deny any creator for this mathematical and systematic world!??
What is your reasons for this atheism ?!
Do you know really what causes that such a grate human is performed from electrons ?!!
Do you know what is the relationship between behavior and gens ?!! Who create this ?! you ?! me ?! People before me and you ?!
Do you really agree that such a grate wonderful systems (genetics, human, world , … ) appear accidentally ?!!”

Yes.

The practical reason why atheists should care about diversity

I’ve long argued why increasing diversity if the right thing to do for ethical reasons – hey, we shouldn’t be unintentionally excluding people based on their race or ethnicity, right? But as those arguments don’t seem to work for some atheists, let’s turn to the numbers:

Within three decades, there will no longer be a majority racial or ethnic group in the Unites States according to new Census Bureau projections released this week. Among the other findings: the country is growing slower than expected.
Michael Cooper reports on the first set of projections issued by the Census Bureau based on the 2010 Census results. “The next half century marks key points in continuing trends — the U.S. will become a plurality nation, where the non-Hispanic white population remains the largest single group, but no group is in the majority,” the bureau’s acting director, Thomas L. Mesenbourg, said in a statement.

When I’m 55, I’ll be looking at a country that looks less and less like pasty ol’ me. And that’s fine! But this should give atheist activists pause. Our groups and organizations are already disproportionately white – I can usually count the number of black people attending a major conference on one hand. Our base of white folks is slowly dwindling, while the predominantly Catholic Hispanics and Christian African Americans are growing. Now we’re a minority within a majority, but we’re going to be shrinking even more.

Please, no racist fear-mongering that whites and/or atheists need to go pop out more babies. There’s a more reasonable and more ethical (whoops, ethics again!) solution. If we can make atheism relevant to racial minorities now, that will result in fewer children being raised in religious households down the line. It’s easier to get people on board now and watch the ripple effect, than wait thirty years and say “Hey, we’ve been ignoring you all this time, but you totally want to join now, right?!” And this doesn’t mean just standing around going “Well, we’re not actively discouraging minorities!” while discussing the History of European Freethinkers for the 39873th time. We need to address relevant issues like skepticism applied to drug laws and incarceration rates, or replicating religious community without the religion, or…well, maybe we should just listen to what they have to say without taking it personally.

Is Atheism+ Divisive?

No.

I wanted to give Greta’s piece a standing ovation after reading it, and I wish I could force everyone who’s made the claim of “divisiveness” to read the entire thing. But if you read anything, let it be this:

The people who are hand-wringing about how Atheism Plus is “divisive” are basically saying that they are entitled to me. They may not intend to say that — but that’s the upshot. They are saying that they are entitled to my work, my ideas, my fundraising efforts, my late nights, my grueling travel schedule, my passion, my exhaustion, my efforts to make atheism stronger and more visible. They are saying this about me… and about every other feminist woman in the movement, and every feminist man, and every feminist person who doesn’t identify as either male or female. They are saying, “If you want to be in this movement, it has to be on our terms. And if those terms means putting up with hate, abuse, harassment, violation of privacy, threats and more… well, I guess those are the breaks.” And they are acting as if a group of people in the movement deciding that they get to choose who they work with, and deciding to form a subset of the movement with people who share their core values, is some sort of horrible betrayal.

Fuck that.

I said at the beginning, and I’ll say again: If you’re wary about Atheism Plus and want to see where it’s going before you decide whether to get involved… that’s fine with me. If you understand the motivations behind Atheism Plus, but prefer to align with another segment of the godless community, such as secular humanism… that’s fine with me. If you can see why people would want to form Atheism Plus, but personally prefer to keep your activism focused on more traditional atheist issues… that’s fine with me.

But I am sick to death of people calling me “divisive” for not wanting to work with people who despise me, who abuse me as a matter of routine, and who have been working for a solid year to drive me out of the movement. I am sick to death of people calling Atheism Plus “divisive”… and yet somehow not applying that word to the hate, abuse, harassment, violation of privacy, threats, and more that women in this community are subjected to as a matter of course, or to the stubborn, hyper-skeptical, willfully ignorant defenses of those behaviors. I am sick to death of people calling Atheism Plus “divisive”… and yet somehow not applying that word to the shit that motivated people to form Atheism Plus in the first place.

Unfortunately, I have the feeling the people who keep crowing about divisiveness will conveniently not read her piece. At the very least I want to see them try to justify how an endless stream of abuse is somehow not divisive. That sort of mental gymnastics amuses me.

In lighter news, the AtheismPlus.com forums are going really well. Over 600 people have already registered, and the forums are quickly filling up with a lot of passionate discussion. And so far we’ve managed to keep the hateful crap under control. Maybe this can actually work.