Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Grilled Cheesus

Here's the most recent episode of the show Glee on Hulu: http://www.hulu.com/watch/181761/glee-grilled-cheesus

Ahem. Original reaction:

Goddammit. Yes you can live in reality! I love looking at representations of religion, but Glee... The only characters that express atheistic sentiments are the big bad Sue and deeply troubled Kurt. All normal people consent to believe in something bigger than themselves. Atheists are sad and troubled while religious people have comfort in groups. This isn't some sort of injustice, but it's not the way I want to see our culture's general opinion on religion. Can't it be okay to just not believe in God?

After composing self:

Glee had a religion episode! Whooooo!

Religion's complicated for sure, so I understand that, no matter what they showed, it would not be polarized enough for those of us with opinions about religion. I'm sure that the creators of Glee, for practical and moral reasons, did not want to distance any part of their audience. So we get a show that seems to make atheists look like spiritual people waiting to happen. This is corroborated by quotes from the show's co-creator, Ryan Murphey. From Wikipedia:

Sue's philosophical argument with Emma about religion is the scene that Murphy is "most proud to have been involved with in [his] entire career." Explaining Sue's stance on religion, he stated: "Sue's an atheist, but I love that she doesn't want to be. She and [Kurt] are both saying to the world, 'Prove us wrong: If God is kindness and love, make me believe in God.'"Murphy felt it would have been easy to have Kurt sing an anti-religious song, but instead chose to have him sing about his faith in love.

Murphey also said that there were plans to include a Christian character because, "if we're trying to form a world of inclusiveness, we've got to include that point of view as well."

Glee is a pretty good thermometer of social opinion, from what I can tell but it's probably also setting a lot of trends. Kurt's father didn't miraculously wake up after prayers and Kurt didn't cave to the emotional pressure of believing in God after a rather emotional confrontation about belief. Having Kurt as a strong atheist with "faith in love" is excellent. I do wish that there was an atheist represented who wasn't bitter, but I suppose that's the type of thing that only a show that specifically sought to improve the appearance of atheism would do. Glee isn't supposed to be controversial. It's a happy show "about inclusiveness." I'm not sure that taking Glee too seriously will do anyone any good. So overall, I love that they made the show. They could have used their massive popularity to prevent atheists from looking like assholes, but it's okay that they didn't--- I'll still enjoy Glee.

PS: I'm not touching the whole Jesus on the Sandwich thing.

Ancient News.

The Daily Tar Heel had a comic of Lady Gaga wearing the meat dress and saying "Don't treat me like a piece of meat." I like that she did this because it is outrageous and interesting. I like that she makes me think. Her life (at least publicly) is performance art. I imagine that someone I know would say that the dress was disgusting, especially since he doesn't like Lady Gaga to start with. There are a multiplicity of ways to view another person's action or an event. Lady Gaga had intentions when she commissioned this dress. Some interpretations of the event may be closer to her intent, though that doesn't make them righter.

If someone were to examine the implications of Lady Gaga's meat dress on animal rights activism, historical precedents for this fashion-of-the-absurd, and Lady Gaga's personal history, they would come to a more full understanding of the causal factors leading to this event. If that is what you are looking for, then the afore-explained examination would be the solution.

Observation: There are a multiplicty of opinions about Lady Gaga's meat dress.

Question: Is any opinion more correct than another?

Answer: An opinion is not a fact. An opinion cannot be right or wrong. I can disagree with an opinion based on the assumption that the person bases their opinion in a false fact. For example, if a chick says that she hates Lady Gaga for wearing the meat dress I might assume that she wants animals to be respected and treated fairly and thinks that Lady Gaga has no concern for animals. I might, in response to my assumption, ask if she holds this mistaken belief and then quote an interview of Lady Gaga in which the performer stated: "Well, it is certainly no disrespect to anyone that is vegan or vegetarian. As you know, I am the most judgment-free human being on the earth," said Gaga. "However, it has many interpretations but for me this evening. If we don't stand up for what we believe in and if we don't fight for our rights, pretty soon we're going to have as much rights as the meat on our own bones. And, I am not a piece of meat."

Thursday, September 2, 2010

This, along with the lesson learned in Harry Potter, convinces me never to eat found food.

"Harry and Ron still needed to get some hairs of Crabbe and Goyle and put Sleeping Draught into some cakes that Goyle and Crabbe would later eat and fall asleep" (from Wikipedia)

Christianity's countercultural conception of sex and gender

The following is a paper I wrote last year in a COMM class about countercultures. Having studied the '60s in America, we examined our present society in search of modern countercultures (if such things exist). For your reading pleasure, here it is:

It’s frequently said that if you remember the 60’s, you weren’t there. In America in the 1960’s the concept of a counterculture was born with a portion of society living in radically different ways- to include new clothing, politics, and drugs that might make one forget periods of time. Countercultures today are multifarious and subtle. Though modern countercultures are just as revolutionary, some can and do come from the Right. Parts of Christian belief, culture, and teaching interact with secular society in radical ways. To understand this we must ask how modern non-denominational Christianity creates a counter-cultural identity for men that includes being a strong leader but also submission to authority, fellowship with peers, sharing of struggles, and a greater acceptance of emotions relate to conceptions of manhood found in secular society.

Sex and gender are not simple issues. Despite the fact that I have one of each and they determine everything from when I get up in the morning (read: whether I put effort into my appearance) to what I will spend the rest of my life doing (read: baby-making or employment), I could hardly provide a comprehensive definition for either. To complicate matters, both Christian and secular views of gender are paradoxical! While in the Christian conception men are expected to be athletic, aggressive leaders who strive for agape love and fellowship, the secular conception is no less strange: men feel ubiquitous pressure to be athletic womanizers despite the fact that the social constructionist view is regularly accepted by academics. Christianity may be so integrated into the fabric of American culture that even those who are not affiliated with the church feel the pressure to overtly display machismo or perhaps Christianity is only one of many forces dictating that men dominate and lead. To explore this multifaceted issue I used a variety of media: books, websites, and first-hand research. I conducted a few peer interviews of those whose views on Christianity I was already familiar with. The nature my research took was asking several people, some from each worldview under study, what experiences or thoughts they had related to masculinity and Christianity, if applicable. Such a broad, open-ended format allowed me to observe an interesting phenomenon: Christians responded faster and more coherently than non-Christians. I gather that Christians have a more clear idea of gender because they have been instructed by church and the bible on what masculinity/femininity means and because of the nature of the two worldviews. My sampling may be skewed because the non-Christian participants have not taken any courses to study gender, so the two groups have not spent comparable time ruminating on the subject. The women’s studies major I interviewed also knew immediately how to respond and had a pre-formulated opinion. These methods have provided a well-rounded description of the evangelical counterculture of masculinity

A major subject of my research is Promise Keepers, a prominent Christian men’s organization. PK, as it is known, was founded in 1990 to revive the biblical concept of masculinity and by “1995 the organization employed 250 full-time staff and had a $64 million budget.” The “main contributors to the Promise Keepers include Bill Bright, the founder of Campus Crusade; James Dobson, the founder of Focus on the Family; and Edwin Cole, the founder of the Christian Men’s Network” (Beal 155). The Promise Keepers’ main text is the list of seven promises. Promises 1, 3, and 7 display the intention of the organization to be countercultural, despite the conspicuous absence of that term:

A Promise Keeper is committed to honoring Jesus Christ through worship, prayer, and obedience to God’s Word in the power of the Holy Spirit. A Promise Keeper is committed to practicing spiritual, moral, ethical, and sexual purity. A Promise Keeper is committed to influencing his world, being obedient to the Great Commandment (see Mark 12:30-31) and the Great Commission (see Matthew 28:19-20). (Promise Keepers)

The references above refer to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself. (NIV)” (Mark 12:30-31) and “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. (NIV)” (Matthew 28:19-20). These verses and commitments, along with the verse commonly referred to as the command to “be in the world but not of the world” (John 17: 16 Bible Gateway) demonstrate the counterculture nature of Christianity. Nor is this something that faithful resent; Ryan Dickey, a young Christian male responded extremely positively to the news that I would be describing Christianity’s modern conception of masculinity as a counterculture. “Everything Jesus did was countercultural,” he lauded.

Modern non-denominational Christianity contains a counter-cultural identification of masculinity because masculinity is characterized as universal, distinct from femininity, a concept that must be taught, and something imperative. None of the books, websites, or Christian interview subjects mentioned a variety of guises that masculinity might take. It was assumed, in every case, there was one type of masculinity that was correct and universal, a masculinity that involved leading and love. Nico attended Liberty Christian Academy for high school, where he, as a skeptic, observed the conservative culture. The impression gathered during those years was that, “if you’re in a relationship, you’re supposed to be seen as the provider and whatever dominant role. Image: his arm around her and ‘I want pizza tonight’ and anything that deviated from that was really looked down upon.” Jessica Glatz, a current practitioner states her perspective on masculinity as, “men are supposed to be the head of the household…Men are the ultimate source of authority in the household, but this is under the condition that they are consulting, working with, and respecting their marriage partners.” The organization Promise Keepers and one of its affiliated pastors, Dr. Tony Evans, proclaim a similar understanding of masculinity. On the PK website, the “About Us” states the organization’s mission as “to ignite and unite men to become warriors who will change their world through living out the Seven Promises” (Promise Keepers). Healy reports that the Promise Keepers see men’s emotional distance and lack of involvement in family life is a problem to be rectified by the father and husband figure having greater dominance and responsibility. Dr. Tony Evans is quoted with a rather radical statement of dominance. He “refers to this historical process of decreasing male involvement as ‘the feminization of the American male’ [which] has ‘produced a nation of ‘sissified’ men who abdicate their role as spiritually pure leaders, thus forcing women to fill the vacuum.’” To rectify this, he encourages men to take back the role of dominance from their wives; men are specifically encouraged to take instead of ask. For the reluctant wife, Evans says:

Give it back! For the sake of your family and the survival of our culture, let your man be a man if he’s willing. Protect yourself, if you must, by handing the reins back slowly; take it one step at a time. But if your husband tells you he wants to reclaim his role, let him! God never meant for you to bear the load you’re carrying. (Healy 221)

This is also an act of love for the world, as it protects “the survival of our culture.” Clearly, the way men relate to and love women is part of their manhood. Love is vowed on the level of the family, the church, and, ultimately, the world. Promises 2, 4, 5, and 6 are as follows:

A Promise Keeper is committed to pursuing vital relationships with a few other men, understanding that he needs brothers to help him keep his promises. A Promise Keeper is committed to building strong marriages and families through love, protection, and biblical values. A Promise Keeper is committed to supporting the mission of his church by praying for his pastor, and by actively giving his time and resources. A Promise Keeper is committed to reaching beyond any racial and denominational barriers to demonstrate the power of biblical unity. (Promise Keepers)

These principles are distinct but related to the requirement for men to lead. Dr. Bill Bright “says that the central spiritual goal is the achievement of a state of unconditional, universal love, or agape” (Healy 215). Masculinity too requires love to function: “Where I’m at is that its very important to have masculinity nourished and encouraged” (Dickey).

As noted by the encouraged dominance of men over women, masculinity and femininity are believed to be totally distinct categories with different behaviors and characteristics. The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) is described by Wikipedia as “a leading evangelical Christian organization promoting a complementarian (as opposed to egalitarian) view of gender issues” (Wikipedia). The Council states that “scripture implies that the woman would ‘desire’ to rule over the man” and that man has “sinful inclinations to dominate or shirk responsibility” (CBMW) and follows up this passage with a reference to Genesis 3:16, which reads, “To the woman he said, ‘I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you’” (Bible Gateway, emphasis mine). The citation of this passage reinforces Wikipedia’s description of the Council as possessing a complementarian view of gender issues; men and women may both be necessary, but they are surely not equal. The Council continues to establish differences between men and women by condemning modern culture for its understanding of gender as a continuous category:

Though culture is pushing for unisex everything, men and women need be careful that they are distinguishably different from the opposite sex in appearance, mannerisms, and cultural concepts of appropriate gender behavior. Some men might need help to recognize and change effeminate habits, which they have inadvertently developed. (CBMW)

A characteristic of a counter-culture is that it stands against the mainstream. This quality becomes prominent when examining the radical views of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. Promise Keepers, a slightly less controversial counter-cultural organization, also emphasizes the separation of femininity and masculinity. PK critic Kevin Healy describes PK's intentions as such: "in its speeches, rallies, articles, books and small-group meetings, PK attempts to construct a unified, ideal model of gender and sexuality." (Healy 215) This is in contrast to Allen's description on page 66 of Rise Up, O Men of God where he says that the social constructionist perspective for gender, "emphasize[s] that there is an 'infinite variation' in biological endowments" and "evidence from historical research and cross-cultural anthropology that shows different constructions of gender in different historical periods and cultural settings." The modern Christian counter-culture has a simplified view of gender as two distinct categories with distinct roles whereas the modern secular view sees gender and sexuality as a range. The best visual for the secular view in direct opposition to the counterculture may be a gender spectrum. In an critical essay Becky Beal relates the PK message about prescribed masculinity from the Promise Keepers’ book What Makes a Man: “’If you could somehow freeze-frame biblical manhood or in some way boil it down into its component parts, you would see five elements that are always present.’ These are assertiveness, self-control, independence, self-confidence, and stability, which are noted as ‘an ever-present nature in all of us as men” (Beal 155). Ryan Dickey, a previously named interviewee, thought that both masculinity and femininity were important, but in different ways. He emphasized the leadership capability of the man and the nurturing capacity of a woman as factors “important for the growth of society.” He also brought up Ephesians 5:22, the “Wives submit to your husbands” verse alongside 5:25, the section indicating that men should love their wives. Depending on the source, the amount of respect and validation given to each gender varies, but the separate parts agree that men must be different than women. These Christian sources look to the biblical charges in Deuteronomy 22:5- “A woman must not wear men’s clothing, nor a man wear women’s clothing, for the Lord your God detests anyone who does this”- and 1 Corinthians 11:14-15- “Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him, but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering.” (Bible Gateway)- as indications that God wanted an outer distinction between the sexes (CBMW).

Masculinity is primarily characterized as a concept and way of living taught to young men. The Summit Church, which many UNC students attend in Durham, had many sermons on the subject of being a man, including “How to Date and Love a Woman,” “Men are from Earth and Women are from Earth: Deal with It!,” and “Men and Women in the Kingdom” (Greer). Cornerstone, an on-campus Christian group, has a yearly men’s retreat in the spring called “Manmaker” (Glatz). At Liberty Christian Academy, the teachers would occasionally give the boys “talks about how to deal with girls” in which “they treated men like bulls raging through a field of flowers and that that we weren’t supposed to destroy any of the flowers” (Nico). Bible studies at UNC are frequently separated by gender. According to Dickey, this is to foster honesty and understanding.

We’re less comfortable and honest in front of each other. A guy’s not going to say what he thinks in front of a girl. It’s the acceptance and desire to be thought of as good in front of members of the opposite sex. Its hard to get over those barriers in a group dynamic…Separate but equal, but done so that it’s the best environment for both. We just don’t think that it’s healthy to have that level of vulnerability around each other. It leads to things, to naked things. (Dickey)

Beal theorized that Promise Keepers and other similar groups “see a need for men to retreat from women to create spiritually-based homosocial rituals through which they can collectively recapture a lost or strayed ‘true manhood’” (Beal 158). Robert Lewis’ essay “Teaching Manhood to Men” explains that needs are met by these men’s retreats: Men’s Fraternity is a community of men who mentor and share with one another. Lewis believes that the first need of a man is “a safe place to go where they know someone understands them, where they don’t feel alone” (Lewis). Christian men in this counter-culture find community and an understanding of their identity through instruction from mentors, pastors, and retreat leaders.

“Men and Religion Forward Movement leaders perceived that the United States was in the midst of a moral crisis, and they believed that men held the key to correcting problems in churches and society” (Allen). Like the MRF Movement, many groups do not think of understanding and correcting masculinity as an accessory. It has been depicted many times as what must be changed in order to fix the world today. Beal notes on page 155 that the Promise Keepers’ “message of revival is also given with a sense of urgency, an immediacy that is directed at the apparent ethical decay of our society.” This same sense of urgency was showcased earlier by Dr. Tony Evans. These evangelists and organizations see misunderstandings of gender as undermining the family, society, and morality. There does not seem to be anything like this deep-seated fear of disruption as an undercurrent in secular society; it is unique. In summary, the modern Christian conception of masculinity is countercultural because it is thought to be universal, distinct from femininity, a concept to be taught, and something that must be maintained if one does not want to risk undermining society.

Not all Christians agree about gender and that is certainly true for secular society as well. However, the modern Christian countercultural conception of gender interacts with the secular society in interesting ways. Secular society admits a plurality of interpretation of masculinity even if there is some pressure in secular society to demonstrate machismo. In the comparison of the high school experiences of two of my interviewees, the difference between some freedom of interpretation and the restriction of the modern Christian counterculture becomes clear. Rocco Giamatteo attended a public high school in New York. He participated in sports and non-athletic extracurricular activities while there; “I was a wrestler, and, latently, I did feel more like a man when I was in the wrestling room than, say, writing for the paper.” The society in which Rocco attended high school probably worked off of the latent societal idea that men are “strong, unemotional, and sexually aggressive, and they consider women weak, emotional, and nurturing” (Allen 66). In comparison, at Nico’s extremely conservative high school:

Spongebob was reviled for being too gay. People thought I was gay, and my friend, Stephen. I didn’t have any overt interest in women and I didn’t say, ‘OH EM GEE she’s so hot’ all the time. And because I didn’t play the dating game they thought that I was gay. I was the kid who slept on a bench with headphones in. Jake and Britney, the all-star, all-American couple was emphasized and encouraged. I didn’t and I still don’t feel the urge to exert machismo or do overtly male things. I don’t cross dress or paint my nails, but I don’t compare weight lifting ability or get into sports because I don’t care. Because I didn’t care or didn’t get into that. My school was a bubble… they weren’t prepared to accept that there were things/people/cultures not like them…I would define myself as not being feminine in general, but not taking efforts to exert masculine qualities. Which is cool. I’m fine with that. People get the wrong idea, but I’m not insulted in the least.

In some societies, even broader ideas about masculinity are accepted. I spoke to women ’s studies major, Crystal Randles, who said that, “A lot of people think ‘male’, ‘female’, that’s it. They think that gender’s binary but it’s not. It’s how you define it. It’s personal identity and how you see yourself.” In a similar vein, Allen says on pages 65 and 66 that there are two conceptions of how gender is constructed: essentialist and social constructionist. The essentialist position is held by the counterculture and holds that biological masculinity is the same thing as the set of behaviors and characteristics considered “male.” In other words, sex is the same thing as gender, whereas in the social constructionist position, sex and gender may or may not match. Any degree of biological masculinity can be matched with any degree of gendered masculinity.

Many in secular society, including myself, criticize the contemporary Christian counterculture. Healy, on page 225, suggests “that the feelings of love and peace experienced in Promise Keepers families indicate not the presence of agape but rather a profound sense of comfort within the safe boundaries of a rigidly maintained system of identity.” A system of values that so closely enforces its own standards to the point that “some men might need help to recognize and change effeminate habits, which they have inadvertently developed” (CBMW) does not seem like it could foster true agape love to me, either. Beal explains on page 156 that feminists object to the idea that female leadership is a symptom of social decay because it invalidates women as leaders and all that they have achieved. The Promise Keepers and many other groups who believe like them may not be anti-woman, as they claim, but they are anti-women’s advancement. And, frankly, a position that advocates decreasing or eliminating women from positions of power on account of them being women is, in fact, promoting the domination of women. Putting half the population on a pedestal to be served is not what women want or need. The societal idea of gender roles espoused by modern Christians seems dystopic and dysfunctional, but that is the way countercultures usually appear to those who are not in them.

These two dominant thought patterns concerning masculinity do overlap on a particular topic: sports. Rocco’s story above illustrates the value of sports to the stereotypical secular man; they are expected to be athletic. What is lesser known is the idea of “Muscular Christianity,” first introduced in 1857 to describe the slightly different form of Christianity being crafted to make church and God more appealing to men. There have been more women than men in church since “the late seventeenth century” and in the twentieth century, the movement to get more men in church took the form of integrating sports into Christianity (Balmer 3). The Promise Keepers online catalogue has items with the Promise Keepers logo on them, as expected. However, you will not find coasters, grilling supplies, or bathrobes; the products available are a tumbler, High Sierra Duffel Bag, Polo shirt, Sportsman hats, and Nike Power Distance Golf Balls.(Promise Keepers) This organization that promotes men returning to dominant leadership sells almost exclusively sport equipment with its logo. What kind of men are Promise Keepers? Men who play golf and go camping, based on the marketing.

The secular world has a lot of individuals who do not have a formulated opinion about gender, and then a part of the culture promotes, or at least believes, that gender and sex are two separate entities that may or may not correspond. Similarly, there is a core of Christians believing and promoting the idea that men and women are “separate but equal.” We can be confident that not every Christian believes and practices this, however, based on the fact that there are many groups and pastors declaring that the world is in decline because their flocks are not practicing “correct” gender roles. We can, to some degree, understand how modern non-denominational Christianity creates a counter-cultural identity for men that includes being a strong leader but also submission to authority, fellowship with peers, sharing of struggles, and a greater acceptance of emotions that relate to conceptions of manhood found in secular society. The relationship between the two was best stated by Balmer: “Promise Keepers, while purporting to shape public attititudes, was also remarkably adept at responding to criticism and to public sentiment. But that, alas, is another time-honored characteristic of evangelicalism” (5). As always, the answer is that it goes both ways.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

I haven't read that book but I should.

1. I found ants in my dorm room.
2. I exterminated as many ants as I saw with my shoe.
3. I reflected.

What if I woke up the next morning to discover that ants had crawled into my somewhat lofted bed and gnawed up a section of my forearm. I would be pissed off and uncomfortable. As far as I know, ants are not coordinated enough to exact vengeance for an ant massacre, but if they were... would it be wrong?

Do I only not care about killing the ants because I calculate that the risk of retribution or other post-slaughter-danger-to-self is minimal?

Did I cause them pain? Dunno. I'm not sure where to look for solid information about whether or not insects feel pain. I killed a whole bunch of them though.

I know that they are only ants. But a dog is only a dog too, and we agonize about it dying whether it was your dog or not. Larger mammals = cuddlier = compassion? Without dire need I can't imagine killing a dog, much less ~30 dogs just for convenience.

Humans are creatures. Did I kill the ants the same way a territorial animal might attack those who come onto its turf? I'm carbon. It's carbon. I've got a more advanced central nervous system than that piece of carbon.

This isn't the type of thing I usually think about. I'm not a vegetarian or vegan and I've never had a strong bond with a pet. I'm not sure if this is a worthwhile line of questioning or not, but I would appreciate any resources on the amorphous blob of "is it cool to kill creatures?"

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

laughing out loud-erskates

I got this from Skepchick and put a ring on it.

For more homeopathic fun: Storm and If You Open Your Brain Too Much Your Brain Will Fall Out. Tim Minchin has given me so much enjoyment and laughter.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

"That doesn't mean you're deep or anything"

I really like "When Harry Met Sally." It has interesting dialogue, a happy ending, and its just fun. I knew from the first time I saw it that Harry's intellectual posturing during the car ride to New York was crap. Now I know why I know it's crap. Here's the beginning of the movie; if you watch from 4:46 you see and hear the conversation about death.

Watching The Atheist Experience #670: Coming Out Atheist, a caller asked about the happiness and morality of atheists. They recommended The Conquest of Happiness by Bertrand Russell which I quickly google'd and discovered for free on Google. Almost the entire book can be read for free here. I'm not very far into it yet, but Russell has already debunked in Chapter 2 the idea that there is something better about feeling yourself enlightened or superior because you are unhappy. It is not your great wisdom that makes you unhappy, it's folly.

I earnestly look forward to reading more, as time and classes permit. Happy new school year!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

"This is about fairness."

This is a short post just to put up a video TedTalks promoted. I think that Senator Diane Savino is spot-on.

The only bad part is... apparently the bill under discussion was not passed.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Evangelism and Russian Tycoons.

I have a friend who calls spending time reading other's conversations and looking at their pictures (like everyone does) "playing Facebook," a phrase I quite enjoy. I also play facebook, but take breaks from vicariously living to judge the hell out of links people post.

Hilarious link #2 mined from Facebook: Russian Tycoon orders workers to find God or get fired.

Well, it would be hilarious if I hadn't gone to church with the user who posted it. She wasn't exact about her feelings on the article, so I'm hoping she was against the sentiment.... but I'm not sure and that's frightening.

My mental conversation goes something like:

"Having been a pretty radical Christian, I can't believe that someone could do this! Did they miss the story of Jesus and the adulteress? Most Christians that I've known are proud of Jesus' revolutionarily loving stance. This guy sounds more like a fan of the fire-and-brimstone God than Christ. "

"Give it up. People who believe and act in the Christian tradition come in all forms, but all the stances that include following the word of the bible are a bit off, seeing as that forces people to condone things done in God's name that are not really acceptable... like forcing your workers to stop 'living in sin.'"

Christianity certainly can do lovely things. For example, the mentality behind good works is quite encouraging. The church I used to belong to gave away free gasoline during the time when gas prices spiked. The message from the pulpit was that it was a blessing of love to the community, not an attempt to draw people to the church. I still believe that was the intent. Also, most of the people I know evangelize because its the best they have to offer. If you truly believe that everyone who hasn't received the love of your god is going to hell, you try and help. It's not prideful most of the time. I've heard evangelism represented as the height of snobbery, but it wasn't. I believed that I was just a tiny cog in the machine of the church, a blood vessel in the body of Christ. As that, my goal was to serve God because he was worthy. Pure and simple, God was worthy of our love and service. If I have been instructed by the bible and the call of love to share with other people Christ's message and love, I do it. It isn't fun or comfortable and it didn't make me feel important. I did feel as though God could see my devotion and made me feel loved for evangelizing. When done humbly, it isn't about the evangelizer, it's about this beautiful being that wants to heal everyone.

And having that outlook makes you a radical and puts you on your way to violating civil rights for the betterment of people. So this Russian tycoon? He's definitely a different variety of devotee than the people I'm used to. But there is the possibility that he started out with a theology that resembles mine and then it intensified over time...

I'm glad to be free of the toxic, swirling reasoning of Christianity. I don't think that many of the devout are stupid or ignorant; they're caught up into a hurricane of theology that's difficult to see your way out of.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Fruitful Day

Tonight I watched episode #669: Agnostic Delusions of the Austin-based "The Atheist Experience." Seems like a good show to me, though callers... hmmmm.
(Img cred: Atheist Nation)

From this show, I'v gained useful info and perspective.
  • Lots of atheists do research. This is my endeavor to do so.
  • Agnosticism and atheism are not, according to this show, the pick-one-and-stick-to-it categories I've assumed that they are. In fact, it is quite reasonable (and specific) to pick a form of each. I, for example, am an agnostic atheist because I strongly believe there is no god, but I do not say that it is knowledge. Other availabilities are gnostic atheist, gnostic theist, and agnostic theist.
  • And just to further clarify, -theism is about belief and -gnosticism is about knowledge.
  • Solipsism is the most difficult word to hear and recognize ever. Additionally, it seems like good science fiction and a stupid idea to live by. If one were to live by this theory then I imagine one would end up in a mental institution.
  • Trusting scientific methods is not the same thing as having faith. Jen has a justified belief that science is the best method for describing the world.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Cruising the blogosphere to shamelessly steal and promote ideas.

The source of this image is this webpage obliterating the idea that "America is a Christian nation" with citations from various founding documents (in this case, the Treaty of Tripoli). I found it through the blog: Atheist Revolution. While the spirit of the blog seems a bit militaristic in its opposition of religion, it has provided me with plenty of information in the few minutes I've looked at it.

Nota bene: Thomas Jefferson and John Adams are quoted expressing serious doubts and mistrust of Christianity.

I found another the blog's resources for those not yet non-believers well-stated. The page titled, "Doubting Your Faith?" doesn't push too hard, but also doesn't back down. I've had problems with sticking to an atheistic opinion when speaking to a friend with doubts, so much that I've even defended Christianity to someone before. Does that make sense?
In the "No" camp: Not believing in God can be a good thing. You may experience some discomfort at first, but ultimately, you'll start using your vote, money, and resources in a manner more conducive to helping people. You won't feel guilty or strive to hear and see things that aren't real. You won't be funding any more gosh darn pamphlets and, most importantly, you can sleep in on Sundays.
In the "Yes" camp: If you are relatively happy where you are, why should I disturb your complete world view? You only have one life to live and if you are not burning down abortion clinics or stomping on homosexuals, then why disturb you? You could lose friends, drive, family rapport, a sense of fulfillment, on and on and on.
In the "no" camp: You've got to stick to truth or truth in silence, even if comfortable lies are more convenient.

Thanks, Atheist Revolution.

Also! My favorite resource for switchers is here: de-conversion. Read it!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Free will?

This article regarding free will is cool: it covers both opinions and research on the subject. Ultimately the author concludes we do have free will, but the proof a rather complicated logical scenario. I've got to reread it before I quite understand.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Thank you, Robert Hass!

Time and Materials Robert Hass
"State of the Planet"
What is to be done with our species? Because
we know we're going to die, to be submitted
to that tingling dance of atoms once again,
it's easy for us to feel that our lives are a dream-
as this is, in a way, a dream: the flailing rain,
the birds, the soaked red backpack of the child,
her tendrils of wet hair, the windshield wipers,
this voice trying to speak across the centuries
between us, even the long story of the earth,
boreal forests, mangrove swamps, Tiberian wheatfields
in the summer heat on hillsides south of Rome- all of it
a dream, and we alive somewhere, somehow outside it,
watching. People have been arguing for centuries
about whether or not you thought of Venus as a metaphor,
because of the rational man they take you for.
Also about why your poem ended with a plague.
The bodies heaped in the temple of the gods.
To disappear. First one, then a few, then hundreds,
just stopping over here, to vanish in the marsh at dusk.
So easy, in imagination, to tell the story backward,
because the earth needs a dream of restoration-
she dances and the birds just keep arriving,
thousands of them, immense arctic flocks, her teeming life.

Complete credit it Robert Hass for that poem. It is not of my creation, but I wish. (wink)

All of the following is regarding the first three lines. which I know is taking something out of context. However, I'm less concerned with textual obligations than mortality. No offense, poets.

That. Yes.
I've never gotten there before.
I had gotten from, "There is no god, no afterlife" to, "I will die and be no more" but no further.
Yes, I will die because I am a creature like all others. My species' existence is based on atmospheric conditions, evolution, and earth. I am composed of atoms. Even my self-awareness and reflection are products of (and dependent upon) the material world. It's biology, a central nervous system, synapses. I'm not more than cells in life.

But now the next step: "I remain. Decay. Stay on earth. Rejoin the "tingling dance of atoms." I fund other projects."

This is a reality I can live with.

Friday, August 6, 2010

TIme to explain the Kite.

I spent hours sitting at my friend's kitchen table coloring and discussing tattoos. I had this discussion with two others, both of whom are Christians and who want their tattoos to reflect this and encourage devotion.

This discussion was preceded by days of being around conservative Christians of various varieties... and no one else. I do not dislike Christians. I do not think that they are stupid. However, feeling like every single one of them would disapprove of and be shocked by pieces of my life is distancing and uprooting.

Fueled by all this, an image popped into my head as I pulled into my driveway: a tattoo of a kite on my foot. Admittedly, this is not completely original or all that absurd, but I like it.

The basic frame of a kite is two sticks, one shorter than the other, laid perpendicular; in short, it's a cross. Beyond the frame, it's a kite: windblown, hopeful, reminiscent of sunlight and sky. It's just dreamy enough, though it's grounded in a tangible object.

I don't think that tattoos must have meaning. In fact, I was quite torn between getting something symbolic/important and getting something meaningless. Of course, a meaning-devoid tattoo would be a statement in itself; "I chose to put this permanent imprint on my body for absolutely no reason at all. It's pretty." And the meaningless tattoo would stand in for the way there is no ultimate "meaning" to life. We're creatures. Existence doesn't mean something. It just is.

To seemingly-demerit-everything-I-just-said, this tattoo does have meaning. Atheists have a bad rap, even in my head. The word sounds super angry and German, and I'd prefer a title that conjures images of fields and kittens. (Just kidding?) But I really didn't have a bad time as a Christian. I understand that many, many people did, and so I can respect their anger, but I do not share in it. Only things like DADT anger me. I don't want to be an angry atheist. In fact, I can't really afford to be one. My friends are mostly Christians and they are wonderful people whom I care about. I don't want to lose them with bitterness or anger.

And so: the kite. It takes the cross (my history of devotion to a fake deity, belief in an afterlife, involvement with a culture I left suddenly and for somewhat inexplicable reasons) and transforms it into (something small, concrete, experienceable by everyone, and reminiscent of a more reasonable happiness, joy, and hope) a kite.

Two final things and I'm outta here: I don't actually have this tat yet. I want it, but I'm willing to wait until I've done my research and talked to people with tattoos to acquire it. After all, I can wait a few months for something that will stay with me my whole life. Secondly, I started this blog that night too. It's creation was a long while in the making (I've been dwelling on this idea for a while) but the execution of it shared a commencement with the tat. Hence, it's name.

Toodaloo and wishes for concrete hope.

(Img cred to: Life 123)

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Hold up, Wait a minute, Put a little LOOOOOVE in it

My previous post about GetEQUAL was positive, as my opinion of them remains. However, I think that they may need to slow down.

Reading my school's LGBTQ constitution reminds me that many of the groups pushing for sexuality nondiscrimination aren't limited to that. GetEQUAL sent out an email today regarding the Arizona law SB 1070. Though I really have no personal experience of discrimination and I don't live in Arizona, I understand that the law sucks. But being remotely critical of Lady Gaga for not making this one of the issues she fights is.... hasty.

"We all know how supportive Lady Gaga is of LGBT issues. What's missing is her support of immigrants to America -- especially immigrant youth who are also lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender." (from email)

Sure, ask her to make a stand, but if she doesn't, it doesn't make her inconsiderate or slighting. She just may have a different opinion.


This blog really started when a Facebook friend posted a link and praised the people in the video. I only got part of the way through it before being disgusted. Reading the article is even worse; all the sort of twisted ideas are laid out together. I have had conversations about faith with the person who posted it before. Seeing myself agree with her in my memory is strange and distant and the distance between that and who I want to be now is enormous.

On the other side, a cool moment! I certainly don't know all the details (like what the Senator's promised) but this webpage and video are interesting. Here's the associated e-mail from GetEQUAL:
Saturday was a big day for the LGBT community.

Both Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) participated in moderated conversations at Netroots Nation, an annual gathering of progressive online activists. As a result of pressure from the LGBT community as well as efforts within and around Netroots Nation, both Reid and Pelosi offered opening remarks that mentioned the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) and "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT). They did not have to address both of these legislative items, but they did, a clear signal that we -- together -- have gotten their attention and must continue to keep up the pressure.

Speaker Pelosi dodged the question that moderator Cheryl Contee asked her about ENDA. [1] But Majority Leader Reid was unable to dodge moderator Joan McCarter's presentation of my West Point ring to him, along with a copy of the discharge papers I received this week.

Watch the video of the moment here: www.getequal.org/returnthering

In March 2009, I came out publicly as a gay man serving in the military -- last week, that statement cost me my job. Although I am now a civilian -- repealing DADT remains one of my highest priorities, but passing ENDA is also a chief way to protect the LGBT community from heinous job discrimination. Job loss from our government's policy of DADT is wrong, just as not offering equal employment protections for LGBT people is wrong -- discrimination is discrimination.

As Joan explained to Sen. Reid, I did not give the ring as a gift -- I gave it to him as a reminder of the career that DADT destroyed last week. Although that ring represents an earned symbol of my time at West Point, at this moment it means NOTHING without repeal. I have no use of a ring that reminds me of the homophobia written into our laws -- written into the laws of a country that I have fought for and that many of my friends have died for.

Across this country, LGBT people experience discrimination every day -- more lives have been impacted and more careers have been destroyed than just mine. But I'm not going to stand by without a fight...and neither is GetEQUAL.

The repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is within sight, but we've got to keep Sen. Reid accountable to his promise to return my ring this year when the policy is repealed. We've also got to keep other elected officials accountable to their promises to protect the right of LGBT Americans to work without discrimination by passing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

Join me in demanding the repeals of DADT this year: www.getequal.org/returnthering

Thank you for supporting me through what has been one of the toughest times of my life. I couldn't have done this work without the support of this community, and I look forward to the fights ahead of us.

All the best,

Lt. Dan Choi

Discharged from the U.S. Army under "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Actually... no.

To the person who told me last night that I had to admit that the liberal university I attend was a morally bad place:

In person, I waited for you to back down. You didn't, so I did. Please don't confuse social tact with cowardice. The only evil I know of is that which comes from outside (Student Body President being killed, rape nearby). These things are evil, but they do not come from the university. You call free speech evil? Uncensored learning? Homosexuality?

I call the fact that I spent years praying and thinking and seeing things that are not real is disturbing. I think the fact that soldiers are using their military experiences as a venue to spread Christianity is a bit of Americanization. I think that it is supreme injustice for same-sex marriage to be banned in many places.

And really, if you are looking for something evil to protest, go no further than Westboro Baptist Church. Note the child holding a rather explicit sign at the very end of the video.
Those are evils. Free speech is not.


Joss Whedon on Humanism

Friday, July 23, 2010

I don't fly kites.

I grew up in the American south devout. Now I'm not. Simple, but comes with clutter.

I'm trying to figure how not to be an extremist but to do right. Some of my favorite- and most respected- people are devout Christians, so I'm trying to keep this anonymous, at least for now. Please, give feedback!

Noam Chomsky matter-of-factly spoke of far-right "Christian Extremists," a phrase I've never heard before.

East of Eden, Chapter 22:
"Joe was off to college...Samuel wrote to Joe, saying, 'I would be disappointed if you had not become an atheist, and I read pleasantly that you have, in your age and wisdom, accepted agnosticism the way you'd take a cookie on a full stomach. But I would ask you not to try to convert your mother. Your last letter only made her think you are not well. Your mother does not believe there are many ills uncurable by good strong soup. She puts your brave attack on the structure of our society down to a stomach ache. It worries her. Her faith is a mountain and you haven't even got a shovel yet."

P.S. I want to caulk the fissures in my life left by religion with Psychology, St. Vincent, Muse, poetry of all sorts, water balloon fights, social tact and humility, cigarettes, Jonathan Safran Foer, and Kurt Vonnegut. In that spirit:
a song.