Saturday, September 13, 2014

How Feminism Has Benefited Me - Friendships Edition

I was going through Laci Green's YouTube channel to find a specific video to share in a conversation, and as happens most times I visit her channel, I ended up watching a few more of her videos because she's all smart and stuff.

This time, one particular video caught my attention.

I've never understood the myth that men & women cannot be platonic friends.  Throughout my entire life, the vast majority of my closest friends have been female.  There's really only been a handful of exceptions.  My oldest friend is male, and we've been through some pretty rough, and some pretty good times together.  But I'm just as close to his wife as I am him.

I have separate bonds with each of them because I'm able to see them as separate people.  My friend's wife wasn't just my friend's wife.  She's a person of her own, and because I was able to see her that way, she quickly became the closest thing I've ever had to sister.  We're close friends, and we both find the idea of it being anything else as laughable as if we really were siblings.  And I wouldn't have it any other way.  It's never been weird because none of the three us have antiquated views on friendship and gender.

Rarely has sexual interest ever come up with any of my friends, and it's never seriously hindered or ended a friendship of mine.  I attribute this largely to the fact that I never bought into the idea that it should.  Plus, I've made (mostly) good choices about who I've called friend.

I never specifically sought out female friends or male friends.  It's happened that most of my friends, and nearly all of my closest confidants, have been women.  I'm glad I never bought into the archaic ideas that friendships should be gender segregated or that the only interaction between genders must involve our genitals.

If I'd let that silly notion into my head, I'd have needlessly deprived myself of most of the best people in my life.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Life In The Bible Belt From A Tourist Perspective

Having to constantly have Jesus thrown in your face is a common theme I see from people all over the United States, but this is especially so in the Bible Belt.  As if to illustrate my point, just as I started writing this, my family in the other room started talking about a Bible study one has been attending.

I was in the same house as that much of my family because we were on a trip to Branson, Missouri.  On the day we visited the part of town with all the touristy, gift shops, I encountered something I was not surprised to see, but it was still interesting to see it in that volume.

Jesus merchandise was everywhere I went.

This was just over a few hours, and it's not even close to all I saw.  It's not even all the pictures I took.  For several of the places, it's just about all they had.  These were all found in private businesses, so there are no Church-State issues involved.  I'm not writing this to say they should not be allowed to sell this much religious merchandise or even that they're wrong to do so.  In fact, considering the fact that these are for-profit businesses in this place, they're right to do so.

This is merely a visual representation of what many atheists have to put up with.  All the time.  Around here, Jesus sells.  It sells this way because Christianity is ingrained into every part of the culture in these places.  It's even in their newspapers.

Just something to think about before you go all rageface at someone who comes from this environment and believes things that seem absurd to those who've been lucky enough to escape it.  Something to think about before you call all Christians stupid or call closeted atheists in these places cowards.

Just because you were lucky enough to overcome something does not mean it comes easily to everyone.  It couldn't hurt to keep that in mind.

Interviews, Anxiety, and Society

I'm sitting here waiting for a phone call from a reporter with the Omaha World Herald.

This should not elevate my heart rate, and yet it does.

I shouldn't be worried about saying something to hurt Omaha Atheists or Apostacon.  I've done this before.  And yet I am.

I shouldn't worry about the reporter surprising me with a hidden agenda against us.  He already has a history of treating us fairly, and there's no reason to expect he'll behave differently today.  And yet those thoughts are in my head.

I should not go through this neurotic thought process before every interview or conversation with someone new.  And yet I do.

I shouldn't have lost sleep over this.  And yet I did.

My brain should not play tricks on me like this.  And yet it does.

There should not be a negative stigma from society for people like me, whose brains play tricks on us.  And yet there is.

I should not be ashamed of having a brain that plays these tricks on me.  And I'm not.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

A Particular Ice Bucket Challenge

Last weekend, I was challenged to the Ice Bucket Challenge, and I responded with a donation.  So, I've decided to challenge 3 people.

  1. Susi Bocks, a wonderful person and organizer for Kansas Atheists.
  2. Micah Weiss, an organizer for one of my favorite conferences, Skepticon
  3. Chris Attaway, author of my favorite Christian blog, The Discerning Christian

If you'd like to donate, please visit the Out of The Darkness Walk page for the woman who did the dumping of the water, a dear friend and the mother of the girl sitting next to me in the video, whose story you can also read about on that page.

Monday, August 18, 2014

I've Been Ice Bucket Challenged

I've been challenged in the recent trend of the Ice Bucket Challenge, for the ALS Association.

I might do the ice bucket part of the challenge later, but it wouldn't be within the time limit.  So, since I didn't have the time within the 24 hours to film myself getting ice water dumped on me, I decided to do like the President did and just donate for now.

Besides, donations are the real point of this in the first place.  If you'd like to donate, the team I donated to is Team Masters, run someone I know whose husband has ALS.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Robin Williams Died From A Disease, NOT A Choice

Robin Williams suffered from Depression, a very real medical condition that threatens the lives of its victims.
Feeling sad, or what we may call "depressed", happens to all of us. The sensation usually passes after a while. However, people with a depressive disorder - clinical depression - find that their state interferes with daily life.
For people with clinical depression, their normal functioning is undermined to such an extent that both they and those who care about them are affected by it.
It's not just something people can "get over", because that's not how Depression works.  When someone with Depression takes their own life, it's not a selfish act as some say.

Others will claim the resulting suicide is a mere choice of the sufferer.
It’s a tragic choice, truly, but it is a choice, and we have to remember that. Your suicide doesn’t happen to you; it doesn’t attack you like cancer or descend upon you like a tornado. It is a decision made by an individual. A bad decision. Always a bad decision.
Except that, if you have it, Depression DOES happen to you.  Walsh displays a profound failure to understand what Depression really is in his proclamations about it.
First, suicide does not claim anyone against their will. No matter how depressed you are, you never have to make that choice. That choice. Whether you call depression a disease or not, please don’t make the mistake of saying that someone who commits suicide “died from depression.” No, he died from his choice. He died by his own hand. Depression will not appear on the autopsy report, because it can’t kill you on its own. It needs you to pull the trigger, take the pills, or hang the rope. To act like death by suicide is exactly analogous to death by malaria or heart failure is to steal hope from the suicidal person. We think we are comforting him, but in fact we are convincing him that he is powerless. We are giving him a way out, an excuse. Sometimes that’s all he needs — the last straw.
He's technically correct in saying that a choice is involved.  His failure to understand lies in the place where that choice is made.  He fails to understand what leads to that choice.  He fails to understand how Depression puts people in a position of non-stop suffering.

Depression tortures people from within their own minds.  It puts them in a place where death is seen as the only possibility of escape from that torture.
Second, we can debate medication dosages and psychotherapy treatments, but, in the end, joy is the only thing that defeats depression. No depressed person in the history of the world has ever been in the depths of despair and at the heights of joy at the same time. The two cannot coexist. Joy is light, depression is darkness. When we are depressed, we have trouble seeing joy, or feeling it, or feeling worthy of it. I know that in my worst times, at my lowest points, it’s not that I don’t see the joy in creation, it’s just that I think myself too awful and sinful a man to share in it.
He almost gets it right, and yet still misses the mark by as far as it can be missed.  Depression causes sadness that overrides any potential joy.  It's a medical condition that causes sadness.  It's something quite different from a mere lack of joy.  If Walsh deals with Depression as he claims, he should know better.

But instead, he's even worse, calling it a spiritual condition.
I can understand atheists who insist that depression must only be a disease of the brain, as they believe that our entire being is contained by, and comprised of, our physical bodies. But I don’t understand how theists, who acknowledge the existence of the soul, think they can draw some clear line of distinction between the body and the soul, and declare unequivocally that depression is rooted in one but not the other. This is a radically materialist view now shared by millions of spiritualist people.
All this nonsense does is reinforce the idea that a sufferer of Depression has no hope.  It tells them that their medical issue is not something that can be overcome with medicine.  It's spiritual.  It tells people that their Depression can be overcome by simply praying and getting to closer to their God.  And when that inevitably doesn't work, it tells them that their continued Depression is their own fault for not being close enough to that god for them to be healed.

Walsh says he doesn't understand how theists can have a proper understanding of Depression.  Here's what one, Christian blogger Chris Attaway, had to say to that.
We don't expect people with Downs syndrome to perform rocket science. We don't expect people with cerebral palsy to perform at the Olympic level. We never fault them for this, and we do our best to love them and support them in their limitations.
Why, then, do we treat people with depression and similar illnesses as though they should be able to perform at a level well above the limitations of their disease? Why do some people -- like Matt Walsh, the consistently insensitive "Christian" blogger -- try to fault people for not making all the right choices, even when those people have problems which preclude making all the right choices?
People like Matt Walsh aren't helping, because their backward view of mental illness treats as a matter of choice, rather than the legitimate medical condition it is.  They're perpetuating nonsense.

I pity anyone who suffers from mental illness and only has people like Walsh as support.  But we can mitigate the damage done by Walsh's nonsense by being vocal against it.  If you make it known that you will be supportive, rather than judgmental, you may end up being the only person someone has to come to when they need such help.

Because we certainly don't want them to going to people who will shame them for something absolutely no one should be ashamed of.

Some tributes to Williams that I've liked:

To stab the giant in the eye (RIP Robin Williams)

'He was a hero to me': Paul F. Tompkins on Robin Williams

5 Times Robin Williams Was Pretty Much the Best Guy Ever

Robin Williams and Why Funny People Kill Themselves

Robin Williams: When depression kills

Robin Williams's death: a reminder that suicide and depression are not selfish

Robin Williams’s Verdict on Life

Monday, August 11, 2014

Depression And Robin Williams

I've seen a lot of sorrow over the death of Robin Williams.  Mostly paired with sentiments of him bringing people joy.

Depression doesn't discriminate.  Sometimes it even horribly haunts people who outwardly appear happy and bring joy to millions.

If you find yourself in such a situation, please know that it should come with no shame.  No matter what shitty things our society says about mental illness, it's a legitimate medical issue and deserves to be treated as such.  If you're a sufferer, please seek whatever help you need.

If you know a sufferer, please be receptive, supportive, and non-judgmental when that help is sought.  You just may save a life you didn't even know was in danger.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

There Is No Need To Straw Man Ray Comfort

A post about something awful Ray Comfort said has started to go around.

If your first thought is that it must be fake, you're in the same boat I was.  Ray Comfort is an idiot and a habitual liar, but this seems way too much for even him.

He's said so himself.
A number of people have received the following post, saying it was from me. I would never say such horrible things. If you get one of these, please give the details to and we will follow this up. Thank you.
"Slavery is all a part of history. It was a good and bad thing all together. It was good that African Americans were willing to work for scraps to better our beautiful country. The downside is with all this liberation, interracial marriages have skyrocketed. Jesus was a white man, and if we continue this path, all white men will be gone in the next 3 generations. This is when he will come back for the day of judgment."
I have no love for Comfort, and I'm skeptical of just about everything he puts out, but I do believe him here.  There's no evidence he said the awful thing above.  Whoever created that image is an asshole.  If we lie about him like that, we're no better than he is.

We have plenty of material to make Ray Comfort look like an asshole.  He gives it to us himself all the time.

Monday, August 4, 2014

The New Ku Klux Klan?

The Ku Klux Klan got attention in March when they distributed fliers to a neighborhood in Chesterfield, Virginia.  It's part of what appears to be an attempt to revamp the public image of a group best known for murdering people.
The Ku Klux Klan papered several Chesterfield County neighborhoods this week with fliers proclaiming it is nonviolent, not a hate group and not “enemies of the colored and mongrel races.”
I'm not sure how they figure they can be taken seriously in their claim to not be a hate group while referring to people as "the colored and mongrel races", but at least they're advocating non-violence.  Hopefully they're at least also practicing it.

But they're not the only group attempting to make the Klan more palatable for the modern world.  A Pennsylvania Klan group wants to start a neighborhood watch.  In the article about the neighborhood watch, Imperial Wizard Frank Ancona said,
It’s just like any neighborhood watch program. It’s not targeting any specific ethnicity. We would report anything we see to law enforcement
That would be great if they could believed.  But he also said,
We don’t hate people. We are an organization who looks out for our race. We believe in racial separation
In other words, they're still racists.  The fact that they do not understand that they're racists is what has them being surprised when people react negatively to them attempting to police their neighborhood, however passive they claim to be with it.

Even if their violent past really is behind them, it's not that far behind them. Earlier this year, a Jewish center was shot up by "former Grand Dragon of the Carolina Knights of the Ku Klux Klan".  Ancona's reaction was to condemn the violence.
"I believe in racial separation but it doesn't have to be violent," he told CNN. "People in the Klan are professional people, business people, working types. We are a legitimate organization."
Cross, who founded the Carolina Knights of the KKK in the 1980s, went "rogue," Ancona said.
The Young Turks covered the basics pretty well.

Although, they did miss one thing about Ancona's attempt at reimaging.
The leader of the Traditionalist American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan is tired of “a few rogue Klansmen” ruining the group’s reputation, and argues that the group is a non-violent Christian organization.
I'm sure many non-violent, non-racist Christians today would take exception to the Klan declaring itself Christian, but they'd have to deny a lot of history to do so.

Photo Credit: Dallas Voice
If the Ku Klux Klan wants a palatable image, they'll need to do 2 things.

  1. Change their name.
  2. Stop being racists.

Even then, I don't see many people buying it.  But it's not like the Klan has ever been accused of being all that smart.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

A Coming Out Story, And The Insidious Nature Of Religion

Recovering From Religion often tweets/posts good questions to provoke conversation.  Here's one from yesterday.
So, here's a short story of me coming out as a non-believer.

Having always been an atheist, I went into college as an atheist.  I was not yet an activist.  I don't think I even really identified as the word "atheist".  By that point, I had put very little thought into it all.  Even after spending 6 years in a church youth group while openly not believing and not participating in most of the few religious things they did.

When making friends, I put zero thought into their religion.  I didn't give a shit about their religion even when I befriended a girl who always wore the same cross necklace.  The only reason I even noticed the cross was because it was the only way I could tell her apart from her identical twin sister.  The only time I ever remarked on the necklace was to request that she keep wearing it until I could tell them apart without it.

I enjoyed my friendship with the pair of them, who were my lunch companions every day for the first several months I was at college.  We never argued over our religious differences.  Those differences never came up at all.  I honestly don't even know the exact point they found out (or figured out) that I was an atheist.  I never made a point of telling them.  At least not until it came up.

One day, they decided to invite me to a meeting of a group they belonged.  Fellowship of Christian Athletes.  Maybe they thought I was Christian and had made the same assumption most people do.  Maybe this was the moment they found out I was not a Christian.  Either way, their response to me telling them I'd be out of place in that group because I was neither of those things (Christian or Athlete) changed the nature of our relationship forever.

"We don't want you to go to Hell."

I'd been around religious people all my life, but that was the first time anyone had suggested that my fate possibly involved Hell.

My response was not fear.  Hell is often used to scare people into believing, but Hell was never something capable of inducing fear in me.  I'm not wired that way.

My response not offense either.  While I find the concept of Hell offensive, I took the invitation as them wanting to include their friend in a group they enjoyed.  And I took the bit about Hell as them being genuinely concerned for my fate, not wanting me to suffer.

Nevertheless, that incident meant the end of two friendships I valued.  I do not recall if it was me or them who pulled away.  I never held ill will toward them, and I never had any reason to believe either of them did so toward me.  There was no fighting.  No arguing.  There was only that one implication that I was going to Hell.  We simply drifted apart.  It was not even until years later that I realized this incident was the cause of us drifting apart, but I have no doubt that it was.  And I have no doubt that this was not the only time in my life this has happened to me.

I still regret that we didn't remain friends.  They were fun.  They were good people.  Two good people that I lost from my life all because of their religion and what it says about people who do not share that religion.

Religion does not just cause obvious harm.  It's not always family we lose because of it.  It's more insidious than that.  Sometimes it just quietly kills the relationships between people who found each other and would otherwise be quite close.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Family Bookshelf

My friend, Cara, is currently visiting family and dealing with the double standard of the atheist having to keep certain things to herself in order to keep the peace.  I suggested she write about the experience and the following is what she wrote.
Every family I know has one, as sure as they are to have family secrets, family gossip, and the real or perceived family black sheep.  Everyone I know has a family bookshelf.  Some consist of a handful of books shoved in the corner beside the couch, while others have “branches” that extend to fill rooms.  I’m sure there are those whose family bookshelf consists of a handful of out-of-date magazines piled on the back of the toilet, or rows upon rows of DVDs which fail horribly to provide any degree of literary fulfillment.  One’s family bookshelf can speak, often better than words themselves, about that particular family. It can speak of priorities, interests, and personal tastes; or it can speak of darker things: of obsessions and unhealthy fixations.

My given room while visiting my parents every year contains one such structure: the same shelves that were a fixture in our home my whole childhood, though the books it contained have changed and developed just as my siblings and I have.  Spending a month with my parents when I’m so conditioned to solitude results in my often retreating into that room to escape from the responsibilities of being company.  At least that’s what I try to tell myself.  When I look closer though, I can’t argue that what I’m really hiding from is the person I think my parents want to believe I am: that for one month every year, hiding alone in a room is the only way I have to be myself. And it’s during these respites that I lie on my bed and stare at those shelves.  I read the book spines and see how much those shelves mirror my parents, or perhaps, more accurately, mirror the parents I believe them to be.

The easiest aspect, by far, is the shelf of photo albums.  My whole life is there: captured moments that serve to shape memories, even years after those times have passed. There’s the album that contains my baby pictures, the one that chronicles our family’s time living abroad, there are birthdays, graduations, reunions, and even an album that celebrates the life of my maternal grandmother who passed away two years ago.  Like that album, which has been shelved, my mother’s sense of loss and grief must be tucked away, because she doesn't show it. Undoubtedly  the pain is still as tangible to her as the pink, flower-covered album is to me, as it sits within arm’s reach, though she can’t dismiss it as easily as I can, I’m sure.  Those albums, those family histories, as one of the only constants on those shelves, always remind me that I have a place in this family that’s unshakable.  They couldn't excise me from their lives any more than they could erase me from those albums while keeping anything intact when they’re done. It’s like a promise that some have but all should, but sadly don’t.  I am lucky.

Most of the rest of the bookshelf is divided in uneven thirds, though the themes overlap. There are religious books, religious anti-abortion books, and veganism books. It’s hard not to see this as the summary of who my parents are, and that being the exact opposite of who I am. There are the odd books here and there that I can feel connected to them through: Carl Sagan’s Cosmos; the complete works of Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde, Mark Twain, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle; a stack of six Jane Austen books. Yet the fundamentals that make them them, as represented by the rest of the books, are so deeply ingrained in their worldview that my presence feels like a challenge to the very heart of who they are. The temptation is there to pull out the anti-choice Handbook on Abortion written in 1971, and start a discussion on women’s vs. fetal rights. I should be able to; after all, wasn't I subjected to endless indoctrination sessions when I was a kid, impressing on me of the evils of abortion, including misinformation about the dreaded “partial-birth, late-term abortions”?  I was sat down with my sisters and made to watch The Silent Scream, as if the horror of it could somehow inoculate us against ever committing such atrocities.  If my mother had the freedom to share all that with me, why can’t I work up the courage to say that I support Planned Parenthood and abortion should be available to all?  Am I afraid of being less loved and respected, or am I just afraid of the ensuing awkwardness?  Or am I convinced that being “pro-life” is so ingrained into my mother’s being that the chance of her changing her views are infinitesimal?  It feels easier to bite my tongue.

One and a half shelves contain twenty-three volumes of The Pulpit Commentary, there are at least nine bibles, and two whole shelves of books by Christian philosopher George MacDonald.  How do I pick up one of my parents’ three copies of What Jesus Meant by Garry Wills to discuss my views on it? My parents’ would defend the words of Jesus, where I would just be trying to say, “How do you know he even existed?”  Of course he existed.  Of course Jesus still loves you. Of course.

Though I normally remain silent, the other day when the conversation turned to the rapture and God eventually putting an end to human suffering, I read the following Tracie Harris quote to my mom: “You either have a god who sends child rapists to rape children or you have a god who simply watches it and says ‘When you’re done I’m going to punish you.’  If I could stop a person from raping a child, I would. That’s the difference between me and your god.”  My mom was silent for a bit, deep in thought, then agreed that that was one of the greatest challenges in understanding God.  Then she presented me with a book off of her shelves called God & Human Suffering: An Exercise in the Theology of the Cross by Christian theologian, Douglas Hall, saying it was the best explanation for why God allows suffering.  “The best Christian explanation,” I replied, feeling like we were speaking different languages.

Shortly afterward my mom pulled out another book, written by United Church minister Anne Hines, called Parting Gifts: Notes on Loss, Love and Life.  She read me an excerpt:
We all know that the purpose of family is to provide us with affection and a sense of belonging we all require. Our parents and siblings are those who love us entirely, not for anything we’ve done, but simply because we exist.  They are living, breathing covered wagons of emotional support and nurture, circling around to protect us when the forces of life threaten our well-being and our self-esteem. Family provides a soft, safe place to be in a hard and dangerous world.  This is the purpose of family.

Until a few years ago, I would have said this was true.  In fact, the main and most important role of those closest to you is to yank your metaphorical chain, poke you with a psychic stick, bring up your most deep-rooted, vexing personal issues and make you totally insane.  The definition of family is not “people who push one another’s buttons.” It’s “people who push one another’s buttons, hold them down and then slap a piece of duct tape over them.”
I tried to fathom why she’d read me this, and made the assumption that it had to do with the veganism she and my brother perpetually push on us: that she was trying to justify the force of her views with the excuse that it’s her responsibility to push my buttons.  But I wonder if she was trying to give me permission to speak my mind, despite the fact that my ideas clash so harshly with hers.

The fact that I eat meat, drink milk, even enjoy honey, is a source of pain to my mother.  That I've concluded there is no god pains her as well.  I am hurting her just by what she does know about me.  How could I reveal more?  How could I expose the parts of me that run so counter to her deeply-rooted sense of morality? So I remain silent.  I rob my parents, whom I love, of the opportunity of knowing me better.  I judge them by their books and they know only the shadow of me.  I resent them for not seeing me, ignoring the fact that by hiding, I’m neither allowing myself to be known nor pushing my parents’ buttons, thus failing them far worse than they've ever failed me.  I hope, ultimately, that knowing my shortcomings in this regard will force me toward being more open.  Last year, while hearing about abortion from my mom, I told her that only about 10% of Planned Parenthood’s work involved abortions, but the rest was essential medical services provided to low income women.  I was met with silence, but sometimes that just indicates thought.  Maybe next year I’ll be able to share more.  Maybe the process of contradicting my parents’ deepest held beliefs shouldn't be attempted all at once, but in stages.  I hope someday that I will wake up to discover that without noticing it, my parents and I have met in the middle and allowed common ground to be a greater focus than our differences. Maybe then I won’t have to hide upstairs, staring at a bookshelf that screams at me how wrong I am.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

They're Not Saying

They're not saying the immigrants from Asia who settled this land more than 10,000 years ago shouldn't have come here.

They're not saying the immigrants from Europe who began settling here more than 500 years ago, and have been coming over here steadily ever since, shouldn't have come here.

They're not even saying the unwilling immigrants from Africa shouldn't have come here.

They're only saying the immigrants coming right now from Mexico[1] should not being coming here.

Apparently, they are extremely picky about timing.

1.  They're not actually all Mexican, but that's a detail unimportant to them as they are yelling "Go back to Mexico!"

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Hey Gordon Klingenschmitt, Challenge Accepted

A school in Wisconsin was recently told that they could not have their graduations in the church they'd been having them at because it was obvious violation of the Separation of Church and State.

Republican candidate for the Colorado General Assembly, Gordon Klingenschmitt, had an interesting response to this.

If the atheist complainer is so uncomfortable when they walk into a church that there's something inside of them squirming and making them feel these feelings of hatred toward the cross of Jesus Christ, don't you think it's something inside of the atheist complainer that's wrong?
I have a solution.  Let's do an exorcism and cast the Devil out of them and then they'll feel comfortable when they walk into church.

I'll leave the correcting of his errors to Hemant Mehta, who's already covered it better than I could, because I have a different response.

Challenge accepted.

I welcome Mr Klingenschmitt to come to Nebraska and perform whatever exorcism he likes (within legal & medical limits, of course) on me.  We can record the process if he wants.  I will go to any venue within 50 miles of Omaha, Nebraska for the event.  If he's any good at it, he should be guaranteed to leave the event fully satisfied that any demons currently in me have left.

While, I'm obviously comfortable enough inside a church to attend services occasionally, I am regularly offended by things I see there, and I do have my own fights on Separation of Church and State.  I challenge Klingenschmitt to come to Omaha and perform an exorcism on me.

If he has any faith his ability to exorcise demons, or in his god, he should have nothing, including failure, to fear.  Or is he afraid that I'll still be an atheist/secular activist after he gets the demons out of me?

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

They Just Want To Be Sheep

Having grown up around a moderate type of Christianity no where near Fundamentalism, I regularly learn new things about Christianity that make me incredibly grateful to have had a father and mother who taught me critical thinking & how to think for myself and supported me when that resulted in me not sharing their religion.

I also regularly encounter disturbing things about Christianity that Christians think are good things.  Thanks to Dogma Debate, I recently found something that fits both categories.

This is a real children's song.  I understand the inclination to think this is fake, but it is quite real.  They are teaching this song to children.

And having them sing it at church while clearly not knowing the meaning of what they're saying.

Some of these kids look scared while singing this creepy ass song, and they don't even know yet why they're right to be scared.

I'm particularly amused by this one, where they used puppets to sing about being sheep.

The hilarity of that pairing has me feeling compelled to point out again that this shit is real.

And it seems to work well enough to have them still singing it years later.

I'm still very much against lumping all Christians together, but these Christians aren't helping themselves by embracing being sheep.  They seriously think it's a good thing to compare themselves to an animal whose reputation is for blindly following orders even when it gets them killed, and they're teaching this mindset to young children who then grow up having taken this message to heart and thinking it's fun.

Will I learn next that they're comparing themselves to lemmings?

I'm tempted to ask what other songs are out there like this one, but I'm afraid of finding something even worse.  The silver lining I get from this pile of creepy is a newfound appreciation for my favorite Cake song.

I'd rather be fuckin' goat.

At most, I'd be my own kind of sheep.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Men's Rights Advocates Make Me More Feminist

Last week on Twitter, #EndFathersDay was a trend of "feminists" saying shitty things.

Except that it wasn't actually feminists. Misandry is not within feminism, as it advocates equality as a defining characteristic.  On top of that, it was done by trolls.
The prank was started by 4chan’s politically incorrect board, /pol/, in an effort to rile up feminists and make them (and men) look like idiots. 
So, it was not even just trolls.  It wasn't just some prank by bored frequenters of 4chan.  It's part of a larger effort to delegitimize feminism in general.
It’s all a bit ridiculously cloak and dagger, but I don’t think we can dismiss it as a joke. The people behind it are trolls, sure, but they are also nasty bigots obsessed with fucking up feminism and “progressives” in general. And people still get fooled by these campaigns.
Now that we know what they’re up to, the trolls may find it harder to fool quite so many people in the future. They may keep trying, to lesser and lesser effect. Or they might come up with something a bit more sophisticated. I guess we’ll see.

Today, I found a great, concise video response to the Men's Rights Movement from Chris Gethard.

So, of course the de facto leader of the MRA's responded.

Right, because apparently the only reason to treat women with basic respect is to get them to like us enough so we can fuck them.

This asshole isn't some random MRA.  He's the founder of the most popular MRA website there is.  And when posts this shit, the sycophants who follow his nonsense give him the kind of support that put his comments at the top of the video.

YouTube user "conferencereport" beat to the video to say what I'd want to say to Elam, and probably better than I would have.

Anyone who knows me knows I despise the group that calls itself the "Men's Rights Movement".  I've merely touched on it here before, but I've witnessed a non-stop flow of misogyny and ignorance from this group.  These are just 2 examples of the idiocy that is a staple of the Men's Rights Movement.  Activity from them tends to be primarily be petulant whining about (their straw man of) feminism and feminists.

And with their immaturity, they do more harm than good to the causes they claim to care about.  They make advocating for men, in the places where it's actually warranted like unequal treatment in family courts, more difficult because it means associating the factually ignorant and the morally repugnant.

The Men's Rights Movement both makes the goal of feminism more difficult and provides great examples of why feminism is necessary.

Refuse To Give Up?

About a few week ago, Dino's Storage had a nice message up.

I've been collecting pictures to do a follow-up to my last post on them.  I took this picture to use as an example of one of their good messages.  I can relate to this, as someone with a reputation for, and someone who highly values the quality of persistence.  I see it one of the two essentials to successful activism.  Patience is the other.

I was particularly amused by this one after it was up a lot longer than usual for that location.  It seemed like they were applying the lesson of this one to itself.

Then, this week, they changed it to something different.

I'm curious if the same person chose both.

Monday, June 16, 2014


Of all the conferences I'm not an organizer for, Skepticon is my favorite.  They've managed to create a genuine atmosphere of fun, while still running a large conference in a professional manner.  And they do this all while keeping Skepticon free to attend.  And speaking as someone who has seen what putting on a conference involves, this is an incredibly underrated accomplishment.

In keeping with what makes Skepticon fun, there's now Skeptiprom.  It started as a casual conversation on a Facebook post of Beth Presswood's about having an adult prom.  In an effort to make it happen for real, someone tagged in Skepticon's Lauren Lane.  And now it's happening.
When: Saturday, November 22 at 10:00pm
Where: Ramada Plaza Hotel & Oasis Convention Center • 2546 N Glenstone Ave • Springfield, MO 65803
Masquerade Ball
Costume Party
90′s Prom
Dino Extravaganza
Cash Bar
Fancy Dress
Dates Optional
Costumes Desired
Dancing Mandatory
Be There or
Be Square
$10 Suggested
Best Idea
10:00pm is Estimated
We Do What We Like
This should be a great addition to what was already one of the best conferences around.  Now I've just got to figure out an idea for a costume (on top of the costume for Apostacon's Meat Ball).

Thursday, June 12, 2014

On Picking Our Battles

Since my recent encounter with La Vista Mayor Douglas Kindig, a small part of the criticism I've received has come from other atheists.  They've joined some Christians in not understanding how Separation of Church and State works and getting the details of what happened wrong.

A post about it on Atheist Republic is a great example of atheists getting it wrong.  They got numerous small details wrong, including when I approached the mayor.  Their post claims I approached him "in the midst of" the event when I intentionally waited until the event was over.  It's a small detail, but it shows the disregard for accuracy (or perhaps honesty) that permeates that post.

But worse than the lazy writing in this hyperbolic work of click-bait, is the opinion offered by the author at the end of the post:
While I am certainly disturbed by the mayors alleged sentiments, I must in rare form disagree with the atheist activist in question about any alleged violation of separation of church and state here. While the city may have organized the event, they state that it was funded by local church groups who are not part of the government body. Additionally the event was held at a public park which is open to all the public and no one was denied entry as far as we know.
I think we need to pick our battles a bit better than this, because things of this nature give off the appearance of being petty and intentionally confrontational when no confrontation is necessary.
But that's just my two cents.
He starts by acknowledging that the city organized the event.  Nothing said after that is relevant.  Who paid for the event is not relevant.  It was exclusively and explicitly Christian, and it was part of the official La Vista event called La Vista Daze.  No effort was made to even consider anything else.  When we asked the city about it, they admitted that it had never occurred to them.    Of course the city states they didn't do anything wrong.  That's what they would be doing either way.  But one thing is key and undeniable.

The city organized the event.

The fact that it was on public property is not at all relevant.  The Constitutional issue would still be there if it had happened exactly as it did on private property.  And there would be no issue if it had been the churches having the event on their own in the same location.  The location isn't the issue.  The issue is the fact that the city organized the event.

Regarding picking our battles, the author reveals even more of his ignorance of the situation.  Ignorance that would have been avoided if he'd done 2 cents worth of research before posting.

He clearly never found my initial post on the matter, where he could have learned that I wasn't looking for a battle at all.  I attempted a civil discussion.  It only blew up because of the mayor's reaction.

He may also have learned that the response from Omaha Atheists was to use the attention educate and to reach out to believers in the community to open dialogue between our groups.

I've since had the meeting with the mayor that I was seeking that day, where he apologized in person for his outburst.  The city appears like they will be taking my concerns seriously, which at this point is all I was asking for.

I also spoke to the city council and have offered to participate in the planning of future events to help ensure inclusiveness by representing a group not currently considered.  After I spoke, the preacher who organized the event in question spoke, praising Omaha Atheists for our civility and willingness to work together.

He did get one thing right though.  No confrontation was necessary.  Other than the outburst that made news, that we've since moved beyond, no confrontation has been necessary.  So far, all parties are working together civilly.

So, who has "the appearance of being petty and intentionally confrontational when no confrontation is necessary"?  The group who is working toward a litigation free resolution to a legitimate issue or the blogger who picked a fight with a fellow atheist by writing an ill-informed, hyperbolic, and dishonest piece to get some extra hits?

If this writer at Atheist Republic gives a shit about honesty, I suggest he pick his battles better than this.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Having Privilege Is Mundane, Challenging Privilege Is Not

While being interviewed about her experience surviving the Moore, Oklahoma tornado, Rebecca Vitsmun outed herself after Wolf Blitzer incorrectly assumed she had "thanked the lord".

This story is a perfect example of how Christian privilege works in our society.  A national reporter thought it was appropriate to just assume a random person was Christian.  The fact that she was willing to say on national television that she's actually an atheist resulted in national attention because it's a big deal to be willing to be openly atheist.  Even when it shouldn't be.

What Rebecca did was mundane.  Or least it should have been.  It was anything but mundane, and that's the problem.  A lot of atheists are afraid to do this.  Even Rebecca was afraid to do it.  But it was either that or lie.

Her story has been in the back of my mind during the last week since my encounter with my town's mayor.  It's why I wore the shirt with her quote at today's rally at La Vista City Hall.

This shirt exists because people rallied around Rebecca to support her.

What I did should have been mundane.  I was a citizen approaching an elected official with a valid concern.  But, like Rebecca's situation, what should have been mundane was not.  The story went national extremely quickly, starting with The Friendly Atheist and followed by Raw StoryWashington Times, Christian Post, The Blaze, and others.

I know the attention I've had from it, so I can only imagine the focus that's been on Mayor Kindig's office.  I've had a lot of atheists (and some believers) thanking for me for what I did.  But on its own, what I did was not anything special.   It was only special because our culture is constantly telling atheists to shut up and stay hidden, and I refused to do so.  Atheists being open about being atheists is seen as a challenge to the Christian privilege that permeates our culture.

Christian privilege is what had La Vista defaulting directly to the event being overtly Christian, rather than secular or inclusive of other religious viewpoints.  Christian privilege is what let Mayor Kindig feel safe in dismissing my concerns so hastily.

Today's rally was to show that my concerns are not mine alone and that we will not sit idly by while those concerns are dismissed in favor of Christian privilege.

Photo Credit:  Amanda Knief
It shows government officials that they're not free to insert their religion into government without someone standing up to them.  And it shows atheists that if they are that person standing up, they will not be doing so alone.  They will have groups like Omaha Atheists and American Atheists supporting them, just like I've had over the last week.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

La Vista, Nebraska Mayor: "Minorities Will Not Run My Town"

My father was in the Air Force for 20 years, and continued to serve after his retirement until his premature death.  I have numerous other friends & family who have served.  I had intended to join the military myself until various health issues took that option away from me. 

So I have nothing against people honoring the sacrifices of those who did not make it home how they fit, on their own.  If people want to do this in a religious service, they should definitely be allowed to do this.  But not government.

The City of La Vista (the suburb of Omaha I live in) disagrees.

This kind of religious service is particularly offensive because they're using Memorial Day to get away with it.  They started by having a police captain read the names of soldiers who had died in the line of duty.

As I took this, he got to the name Lonnie Allen, who I went to 6th grade with. The street up to Birchcrest Elementary in Bellevue is named for him.  I don't claim to have been close to him.  But I knew him and liked him.  I was sad when I learned he had died.

On the way out, I attempted to discuss the issue with my mayor, so a civil resolution to this violation of the Constitution could be reached.  His immediate response was, "Take me to fucking court because I don't care."

I responded to that by saying that I was hoping to resolve this civilly.  His response to that was to walk away from me while saying "Minorities are not going to run my city."

Thanks to Be Secular for the perfect shirt for this
When (not if) I challenge this, I'll be accused of not supporting the troops.  The fact that it's not true won't matter.

I'll be told that this is a Christian nation.  The fact that it's not true won't matter.

I'll be accused of trying to force my atheism on them.  The fact I am just as opposed to an atheist government as I am a Christian government won't matter.

I'll be accused of violating their religious freedom.  The fact that this city sponsored church service is not within their religious freedom won't matter.  The fact that this service violates my religious freedom won't matter.

But none of that matters to me.  I can take the abuse from the Christians.  What matters to me is that is wrong.  What matters to me is that my minority status is irrelevant.  Civil rights and the Constitution are for everyone, not just the majority.

They're free to worship as they wish.  Just keep it out of my government.

I don't want to sue my own city any more than I wanted to cussed at and demeaned by my mayor.  Hopefully he'll be more open to having civil discussion before we get to that point.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Why I'm An Activist - Mother's Day Edition

I'm not typically one for holidays or big displays of affection, but I do make exceptions when I think it matters and where I think it's deserved.  It's quite deserved in this instance.  You don't get to choose your parents, and I count myself lucky to have the mother I got.

I see far too many instances of mother's attempting to force decisions of varying kinds onto their children.  Gay kids disowned.  Atheist children of religious parents cut off from all contact.  And even less serious things like trying to coerce a child into a particular career path or guilting children into things.

My mother's never done those things.  She's always supported me in what I do, even when she's disagreed.  She still speaks up when she finds it necessary but has always gone out of her way to make sure my decisions are my own.  She's Christian and has never, in any way, attempted to proselytize to me or otherwise make me feel bad about being atheist.

I know far too many people who cannot say the same about their parents.  I cannot relate to the countless horror stories I read of abusive parents.  It is for this reason, that I'm an activist.  This world needs more people to grow up as fortunate as I did.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

A Lesson In Poe's Law - An Open Letter To Wannabe Satirists

Today, I learned that the Smithsonian was planning an exhibit on atheism in America.  Unfortunately, I learned this from an article announcing its cancellation.  When some Christians learned about it, they launched a campaign to stop it.  A campaign that included death threats.  Except, not really.  The article was not real.  It was (an attempt at) satire.

This is an all too common thing I've been encountering.  Websites with fake news like are often mistaken as real.  Part of this is because people, including otherwise good skeptics, fail to vet these sites before sharing them.  But I think the bigger problem is these sites themselves.  The goal of these sites seems to be satire.  The result is them simply making shit up.

This Smithsonian story is believable because it's plausible.  It sounds a lot like something that could actually happen.  That's not good satire.  Good satire is readily recognizable as satire.  You don't succeed in lampooning anyone but yourself when you successfully trick your reader into thinking what you wrote was true.

Poe's Law states:
Without a blatant display of humor, it is impossible to create a parody of extremism or fundamentalism that someone won't mistake for the real thing.
It's based on the premise that we're so used to extremists doing the unbelievable, that we're likely to believe they've done just about anything.  In other words, the point they want to make (that these people are extremists) is already understood by just about everyone.  Or as Jamie Kilstein put it at the Reason Rally, "Everyone already knows Pat Robertson is an asshole!"

If the goal of these sites is to bring to light the shitty things that extremists are doing, they're missing the mark.  By repeatedly misleading people for their own attention, all they accomplish is damage to the credibility of the real reports.  The more people learn they'd been tricked by reports that appeared real, the harder it becomes to get attention to incidents of actual extremism.

For both things you could be attempted, you're bad at it.  If you write for one of these sites, and it's not The Onion, please just stop.  You're not helping.  You're making a mess of things.  We have enough bullshit flowing around the Internet.  We don't need you adding to it.

Leave the satire and parody to The Onion and Stephen Colbert.  Leave the bullshit to people like Fox News.  And leave the outing of the assholes to places like Media Matters and Right Wing Watch.

Monday, May 5, 2014

About Omaha Atheists' Response To Vandalism

Omaha Atheists have been doing highway cleanup for several years.  Last weekend, a few days before our scheduled cleanup day, we found something unfortunate on our sign.

I was surprised it took that long for something atheist to get vandalized around here.  That surprise is part of the problem.  When the Omaha Coalition of Reason billboard was up a couple years ago, the most that happened was people bitching about it.  When that billboard went up, I was fully expecting something to happen it like happens to a great number of atheist billboards.

Atheists are still a stigmatized group.  We're far from the majority, but people are still threatened by us enough to do things like this.  I could speculate about why this particular incident happened, but speculation is all it would be.  Whether it's an effort to bully us and remind us that we're hated, a bored teenager, or just someone who drives by this sign every day and couldn't take seeing the word "atheist" one more time, it doesn't really matter as much as the fact that this is common.

That's what makes Omaha Atheists' response to this so spot on[1].

Photo Credit:  Omaha Atheists

We're doing this by having an event called "Meet An Atheist" next Monday at local coffee shop Caffeine Dreams.  Even if the vandal doesn't show up, maybe someone else will stop by and learn that atheists aren't such bad people.

Getting people to understand that is the mission of Omaha Atheists, and pretty much every other local atheist group out there.  Because we're definitely not going anywhere.

We still cleaned up the highway.

Photo Credit:  Biblename Foto
And when we do it again this Fall, there will likely be a clean sign there.  Paid for by the taxpayers of Nebraska, which I suspect includes our vandal.

Also, thanks to Fox 42 for reporting on this issue:

1.  I'm slightly biased, as I was involved in that being approach, but it was a decision that took no debate.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

A Rant About Bullies And Standing Up To Them

When I was in 4th grade, there was kid who tried to bully several of the other kids.  I never put up with his attempts to bully me or anyone around me.  One day, while we were all going back inside from recess, he ran up from behind me, and sucker punched me in the mouth hard enough to draw blood.  Naturally, we were in the principal's office moments later.

The bully attempted to justify his behavior by accusing me of bullying him.  I hadn't laid a finger on him, and I was the one with a bloody mouth.  So I did what I would have done anyway.  I told the truth.  I didn't get in trouble.  He did.  This was largely because my school's principal knew what qualifies as bullying.
Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time. Both kids who are bullied and who bully others may have serious, lasting problems
In order to be considered bullying, the behavior must be aggressive and include:
  • An Imbalance of Power: Kids who bully use their power—such as physical strength, access to embarrassing information, or popularity—to control or harm others. Power imbalances can change over time and in different situations, even if they involve the same people.
  • Repetition: Bullying behaviors happen more than once or have the potential to happen more than once.
Bullying includes actions such as making threats, spreading rumors, attacking someone physically or verbally, and excluding someone from a group on purpose.
That kid never bothered me again.  Nor did any other bullies at that school.  We weren't friends after that.  He definitely never liked me after that.  But he sure as fuck stopped his bullshit with me, and he didn't get away with it to any other kids while I was around.

That's the thing about standing up to bullies.  It's not always easy, at first.  You shouldn't expect it to be easy.  The bully is sure to lash out at you.  You might even end up with a bloody lip.  Often, the bully will claim you're the one who is a bully, taking your challenge to their behavior as an opportunity to paint themselves as the victim.

Some bystanders may even believe the bully's rhetoric that you are the bad guy in the situation.  From their perspective, they may even have a rational reason to, if you're the only one standing up to someone who is making a show of crying foul.  All some bystanders will see is you being called a bully.

But most rational people will know the truth.  Honorable people will stick by you for doing the right thing.  The people who turn on you are probably people you're better off knowing that about.

You're quite unlikely to survive the experience entirely unharmed, especially with adult bullies who are typically more subtle and passive aggressive than a sucker punch to the mouth, but you'll survive the experience.  And more importantly, you'll send a message to that bully, and any other bullies around, that you will not tolerate that shit.

As far as the good people who, despite what seems obvious, still get hoodwinked by the bully and their lies, sometimes the most you can do is give them time to figure it out on their own and hope the worst they get from it is a bloody lip.