What Happened to the Kids Today?

Time for a change of speed, huh? As stupid as Buzzfeed-brand left wing social politics can be, Fox News-brand right wing social politics can be equally–if not more–ridiculous. I critique the lefties more on this blog because I still somewhat associate myself with them and thereby have to constantly point out the wrong things they do to save myself the second-hand shame and embarrassment. That doesn’t mean I don’t have just as much snark reserved for the folks on the other side of the horseshoe. I make fun of everybody equally.

So, random Fox News opinions columnist, why do you think the younger generations are less religious?

* * *

First things first, the author of this column is Dr. Alex McFarland, the Director for Christian Worldview and Apologetics at North Greenville University. I didn’t know you could be the director for a religious worldview. What does that mean? Is he like a college chaplain? Does he pray over stressed out engineering majors in their first week of finals, reminding them that suicide is a sin? What do you do, Dr. McFarland? Seeing as how NGU is heavily associated with apologetic Southern Baptists and its mascot is The Crusader, I can only assume that it’s one of those Christian colleges you send your daughter to when you don’t want those evil yank liberals turning her into a slut. All I’m saying is that I’m not banking on this being an unbiased assessment of social trends, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this opinions piece came with a poorly filmed, hip Christian rap to appeal to the kids. But, hey, who said you had to be unbiased? I’m clearly not.

College-aged millennials today are far more likely than the general population to be religiously unaffiliated. This is true when they are compared to previous generations as well.

In fact, the Pew Research Center documents that millennials are the least outwardly religious American generation, where “one in four are unaffiliated with any religion, far more than the share of older adults when they were ages 18 to 29.”

Here’s a link to the Pew Poll in question, with the most recent stats being from 2014. The overtly Christian sects are dropping in popularity (though they are, by far, still the most prevalent). Non-Christian faiths are getting a bit more popular, but they’re so minuscule in representation that it doesn’t have much of an impact. And “unaffiliated” is on a significant rise, with the most popular iteration of religious affiliation being “nothing in particular.”

How very millennial of us. Our religious beliefs can be summed up as eeeeeeeeeehhhhhh *exaggerated shoulder shrug*

To be fair, Pew researchers have also found that millennials are just as “spiritual” as other generations even though they’re not as religious. I take that with a grain of salt, though, because Pew–like the rest of the world–doesn’t clearly define what “spiritual” means, and the things it does count as “spiritual” seem really questionable to me personally. I think the universe is interesting, I don’t count myself as being spiritual at all. But Pew counts it, so whatever. The point that I’m trying to make is that being “unaffiliated” can mean lots of things, especially since atheist/agnostic are separate sub-categories, meaning that “nothing in particular” says, well, nothing in particular, about what their spiritual beliefs are.

Just over 60 percent of millennials say that Christianity is “judgmental,” and 64 percent say that “anti-gay” best describes most churches today.

I’m not going to be an angry internet atheist and claim that every single church and every single facet of Christianity is judgmental and weirdly concerned with people’s sex lives. But it’s definitely out there. Hey, not every church in America is going to be a wishy-washy Unitarian Univeralist one, what can I say.

In ministry circles, it has long been reported that of youth raised in homes that were to some degree “Christian,” roughly three-quarters will jettison that faith after high school. Just under half of this number will return to some level of church involvement in their late 20s or early 30s.

It’s almost like forcing a religion on a teenager makes them not like it or something. Did the “ministry circles” really have to tell you that? Now I’m getting the image of some overly elaborate, James Bond-esque meeting room where holograms of ministers from around the world sit around a table and talk about how they don’t know what’s happened to the kids today.

Why is this? Our most recent research, which includes dozens of interviews with teens, twentysomethings, professed ex-Christians, and religion and culture experts, points to factors like these:

Gonna be honest, Dr. McFarland, I’d be far more interested in reading/watching those actual interviews than I would be with reading your second-hand account of what the crux of those interviews was.

1.Mindset of “digital natives” is very much separate from other generations. Millennials are eclectic on all fronts—economically, spiritually, artistically. There is little or no “brand loyalty” in most areas of life.

. . . What? I honestly don’t know what this means. Since when did being eclectic mean that no one latches onto individual, specific things? Millennials are perfectly capable of finding one thing they like and sticking to it. Hell, my generation has been very heavily criticized for having too much “brand loyalty” to certain groups or ideas even after latching onto them stops making sense. It’s not the Baby Boomers keeping Apple and pseudo-religious mindfulness seminars in business.

2.Breakdown of the family. It has long been recognized that experience with an earthly father deeply informs the perspective about the heavenly father. In “How the West Really Lost God, sociologist Mary Eberstadt correctly asserts, “The fortunes of religion rise or fall with the state of the family.”

This kind of just doesn’t make sense. In the same Pew Poll you quoted before, you can click on over a few pages and find out that the people most likely to be overtly religious (in regards to Christianity, anyway) are the same groups that are plagued by poverty, “broken family” being a subsection of “poverty.”

Yeah, I don’t have a father, and I’m an atheist. But I have six younger brothers with a burnout dad who might as well be as nonexistent as mine is, and three of them are extremely religious. One of them wants to be a preacher when he gets older. My mom overtly sends to them church every Sunday and Wednesday for the express purpose of getting them around other father-figures to help guide them through life. The idea that broken homes don’t invite religious sentiments is rather laughable.

That sociologist is contributing to the increasingly more apparent notion that sociology is a hack field. Yeah, I know, it’s not just the social justice warriors ruining it–how odd. She’s making a causative statement when, at best, there is only a correlation. First day of Intro Stat: “Correlation =/= Causation.” Nothing you’ve said has made it clear what the relationship between religion and traditional family ties is and what impact they have on each other; you’ve just asserted that non-traditional family structures are rising at the same time that rates of religion are going down. That is true, but that’s not enough information to make any “X caused Y” claims. Like with most social changes, there’s likely an unmentioned third element (like education or income) that is the actual causal factor behind those other statistics, but I guess we’re just not going to get into that here.

3.Militant secularism: Embraced by media and enforced in schools, secular education approaches learning through the lens of “methodological naturalism.” It is presupposed that all faith claims are merely expressions of subjective preference. The only “true” truths are claims that are divorced from any supernatural context and impose no moral obligations on human behavior. People today are subjected to an enforced secularism.

You mean separation of church and state? I bet you’re just balling your fists up and cursing the heavens because sophomore biology isn’t teaching kids about the theories of reincarnation, karma, and Nirvana and how they relate to the human life cycle. Or were you just referring to Christianity in your little freak out about how public schools don’t teach the “truths” espoused by religion? Pssssst. Psssst. This is why people are getting a bit sick of you.

Also, ethics are taught in secular science courses, so the idea that schools are raising our kids to be amoral because we can’t teach them about God is just inaccurate.

4. Lack of spiritual authenticity among adults. Many youth have had no — or very limited — exposure to adult role models who know what they believe, why they believe it, and are committed to consistently living it out.

I knew I should have been sent to a nunnery when I was younger. That would’ve straightened me out for sure. Also, I was exposed to very fervently religious people as a child–both of the “churchy” type and the “personally devoted to God” type. I talked to my grandmother about God a lot as a kid. The two of us would stay up into the wee hours of the morning talking about God. Didn’t stop the whole “me being an atheist” thing.

5. The church’s cultural influence has diminished. The little neighborhood church is often assumed to be irrelevant, and there is no cultural guilt anymore for those who abandon involvement.

This one’s pretty accurate. Sunday is my sleep-in-and-watch-anime day, bro. It’s also rather amazing how you manage to sound disappointed through text that people aren’t guilted into going to church anymore. I tutor kids on Wednesdays. Can that replace being bored in church for two hours as my obligatory moral do-gooding of the week?

6. Pervasive cultural abandonment of morality. The idea of objective moral truth—ethical norms that really are binding on all people—is unknown to most and is rejected by the rest.

I’m more lenient on the idea of objective morality. I don’t think there are any universally agreed-upon things that are considered objectively good or bad. But if you want to argue that some objectively good or bad things exist independent of human perception, it’s still an argument to be had about where you draw the line between individuals’ subjective opinions and their objective impact on the world and try to establish an objective morality that way.

That being said, you worded this as “pervasive cultural abandonment of morality,” as though not believing in objective morality just means you are a sociopath who has abandoned morals. So excuse me for assuming that the above conversation would not be one you’d be willing to have. This knee-jerk moral condemnation of people who don’t subscribe to your belief system is, once again, why people are starting to get sick of you.

The obvious implication here is that Christianity is the source of the One True Morality. I’m sorry, but that’s not a very good leg to stand on when you’re trying to convince people that your belief system is the fount of all moral truths. Your religion has done, said, and justified some fucked up things, so claiming that you have the monopoly on morality and that you know the true way to being a good person doesn’t sell very well. That, and lots of the “moral rules” the Bible lays out are pretty stupid. “Murder is bad” is a good moral lesson, but then there’s lots of stuff about dietary constrictions and what fabric you should wear and oddly specific rules about what sexual interests are “good” or “bad.” Excuse me for thinking that Objective Morality doesn’t seem all that connected to whether or not a dude finishes when he jerks off.

This is the problem that all religions that claim to be the bringer of objective morality have. What if someone believes in objective morality through the teachings of Hinduism? Are they okay in your book, or is their religiously determined objective morality wrong because it’s not your religiously determined objective morality?

7. Intellectual skepticism. College students are encouraged to accept platitudes like “life is about asking questions, not about dogmatic answers.” Is that the answer? That there are no answers? Claiming to have answers is viewed as “impolite.” On life’s ultimate questions, it is much more socially acceptable to “suspend judgment.”

. . . What? I was nonreligious a decade before I went to college, so there’s that. I don’t doubt that plenty of people decide that they’re an atheist after freshmen year at university, but it depends on the individual as to how “legitimate” that label change is. College is typically the place where you try to figure out what you think about things. Ping-ponging between different worldviews before finding one that’s actually accurate to yourself and not just one you’re fleetingly interested in because you read a chapter of a book in Intro Philosophy is pretty par for the course. I see nothing wrong with that as long as people can articulate their mental experience well.

I went on that tangent because WTF, dude? “Being curious and skeptical of people who say they have all the answers in life is bad!” What? Claiming to have answers for life’s ultimate questions isn’t “impolite,” it’s just inaccurate. 100% of the time. Claiming to know the answers to all the complexities and intricacies of life and all of it’s confusing, difficult parts is inaccurate when a hack motivational speaker does it. It’s inaccurate when a cult does it. It’s inaccurate when pharmaceutical companies do it. It’s inaccurate when social justice warriors do it. And it’s inaccurate when you do it. Feeling put upon because people aren’t accepting your dogmatic answers without question makes you look like an idiot, not them. I even agree with you that “life’s about asking questions” is just a platitude, but it’s sure as hell a better platitude than “life’s about not questioning what people tell you as long as they claim it comes from God first.”

8. The rise of a fad called “atheism.” Full of self-congratulatory swagger and blasphemous bravado, pop-level atheists such as the late Christopher Hitchens (whom I interviewed twice) made it cool to be a non-believer. Many millennials, though mostly 20-something Caucasian males, are enamored by books and blogs run by God-hating “thinkers.”

Bitter much? Chris Hitchens was awesome, but he was and still is a very divisive figure. There are plenty of people who think he was an asshole. I like the guy, and I can give them that point. To say he “made atheism cool” seems to be oversimplifying the impact he had. I will even concede to you, as I did above, that there are plenty of real-world people giving themselves the “atheism” label the same way Marvel making popular blockbuster movies magically made everybody “a comic book nerd.”

That being said, I don’t think the rise in areligiosity can just be boiled down to a fad. You pointed out yourself that this steady decline in religious sentiments has been happening generation-by-generation. Atheism isn’t like 80s hair. It didn’t just pop up one day because the social and consumer conditions were good and then fade away. We’ve been building up to this 1/4 nonreligious statistic for quite a while.

Also, “angry YouTube atheism” has really died down as a topic. It was popular in the early-mid 2000s, but now the “internet atheists” have largely moved on to other topics, the remaining Four Horseman don’t talk about atheism specifically anymore, there are no modern popular irreverent atheist stand-up routines like there were back in the day, and things like Atheism+ have been declining in popularity since their conception. If this was 2005, I’d buy into this more, but I’m having a very difficult time believing that atheism is “the new hip thing” in 2017.

9.  Our new God: Tolerance be Thy name. “Tolerance” today essentially means, “Because my truth is, well, my truth, no one may ever question any behavior or belief I hold.” This “standard” has become so ingrained that it is now impossible to rationally critique any belief or behavior without a backlash of criticism.

I’d be inclined to agree that millennials use “tolerance” as a crutch in far too many situations and that the obsession when “being tolerant” of different people has been brought to ridiculous extremes. That being said, I’m not sure how this has led to a decline in religion, by your own logic. I guess you’re implying that they tolerate too much anti-religious things, that you’re then not allowed to question?

While I agree with the general sentiment that there are some groups you’re generally not allowed to criticize in the name of “being tolerant,” I don’t agree with your conclusion that this is bad thing for religious beliefs. Religion, like all beliefs and belief systems, can and should be criticized. The issue with the Tolerance Police popping up over the last handful of years is that they seek to shield only certain people and ideas from the criticism justifiably levied at them. But a religion being subject to criticism isn’t bad, and having to defend your religion and explain why it’s a legitimate belief to hold should not be seen as a “threat.”

You rightfully call out this “no one can question my opinions” notion when you see it in millennials, but you’ve complained about people having the gall to question you and what you think is the Truth in this very article. Hi, Pot! This is my friend, Kettle!

10. The commonly defiant posture of young adulthood. As we leave adolescence and morph into adulthood, we all can be susceptible to an inflated sense of our own intelligence and giftedness. During the late teens and early 20s, many young people feel 10 feet tall and bulletproof. I did. The cultural trend toward rejection of God—and other loci of authority—resonates strongly with the desire for autonomy felt in young adulthood.

That’s why atheism has always been consistently popular among young adults in America, right? Wait a minute . . . Also, there’s nothing like believing that your planet is the center of the universe and that you specifically are cared about by the Creator of all things to give someone an inflated sense of bulletproof giftedness. Just saying.

Finally, is it really any wonder that kids raised in the churches of 21st century America aren’t often stirred to lifelong commitment? Most churches are so occupied with “marketing” themselves to prospective attendees that they wouldn’t dream of risking their “brand” by speaking tough-as-nails truth.

I’m sorry, I just burst out laughing for a few minutes because I remembered this one fire-and-brimstone sermon I had to read in English class once. Yeah, nothing appeals to young people more than impassioned, fifteen minute long rants about how God’s going to bitchslap them into Hell where they’ll be brutally tortured forever if they don’t submit to His almighty authority and weep in the power of his presence until their eyes bleed. People will just line up around the block to be a part of that religion! Screw the church that has bake sales and potluck dinners and an in-church band playing rock as hardcore as the Christian faith allows. Protestant preaching about Hell is what’s really metal.

For evangelical youth mentored by many a hip and zany “Minister to Students,” commitment to Jesus lasts about as long as the time it takes to wash the stains out of T-shirts worn at the senior-year paintball retreat.

I don’t know what’s sadder: student ministers apparently trying so hard to be “hip and zany,” or Dr. McFarland actually seeming to think that those guys are too edgy.

“Hey there, kids! Who wants to play some lazer tag and listen to Flyleaf before the sermon!” *insert Bill and Ted-appropriated air guitar*

“Get out of here! You’re corrupting the youth!”

It is true that our culture has grown visibly antithetical to God and Christian commitment. But in addressing the spiritual attrition rate of young America, it must be admitted that a prayerless, powerless church peddling versions of “Christianity Lite” share in the blame. God only knows the degree of our complicity, and also the time when we’ll be concerned enough to change direction.

How dare they try to make the church-going experience actually enjoyable, am I right? But I guess that does entail admitting that church and strict religious teachings aren’t very appealing, which must be a difficult thing to do if you’re a Christian apologist. I’m sure the Muslim imam decrying the fact that so many young Muslims are trying to *gasp* go on dates agrees with your sentiment that Religion Lite and hip, wishy-washy young practitioners are ruining the whole thing. How dare they? It’s almost like lording over people and telling them that casually believing in God is bad and that they’re not being religious “the right way” is one of the very many things making them a bit sick of you.

Well, that was fun! I’m going to go listen to some awesome Swedish, Satanist, goth metal now.

Advertisements

Once Upon a Time, I was a Social Justice Warrior

I think I’ve made it relatively clear that I am on the left side of things in regards to politics. For those new to this, back in the olden days of Disorderly Politics, with my very first post about why I wasn’t a feminist, I mentioned rather offhandedly that I used to be far more entrenched in social-justice brand leftist politics than I am now. I decided to use this blog post to explain the reasoning behind why I was a part of that crowd and the reasoning behind why I left it. I think it’s important to have this kind of narrative out in the ether to combat the notion that anti-SJWs are inherently hateful borderline bigots, born and raised on conservative Reddit forums.

This’ll be a long one, and a lot of it’s background. So skip on down to the half-way point if you don’t want to deal with that. It’s about time that I ranted for 3,000 words again.

* * *

For some background, I am from the rural South. Southern Baptist church on every corner, sweet tea drinking, Confederate flag flying from the back of every other pickup truck-brand, Bible Belt South. I have many younger brothers, and my single mother and grandmother raised me in a trailer park. Most people around me were politically conservative, as is typical of the area. And the ones who weren’t politically conservative tended to be Southern Baptist Democrats–mostly African-American extended family who liked Billy Clinton and social safety nets and thought the gays were going to go to Hell.

My mother and grandmother are life-long Democrats out of habit. For the most part, like most poor working people, they are apolitical in the practical sense. We never talked about politics, and what they know about the political scene typically doesn’t go past what is gone over in mainstream ABC Channel news segments. There are things of more immediate concern in their lives.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been more socially liberal than most of my peers, something that can be significantly attributed to me realizing that I was an atheist at a very young age. Once you start thinking church is stupid and God doesn’t exist, it’s kind of hard to think that homosexuality or drugs or premarital sex or abortions or any number of other things are sinful. And being in some way “sinful” is the main argument you hear against most of those above topics when you live in the Bible Belt. There are other arguments, of course, but I didn’t hear those until much later.

So me and my small group of more liberal friends grew up with a bit of a chip on our collective shoulder regarding small-town conservatism. It’s to be expected. I’m of the opinion that small towns exist as a test to see if you leave when you get the chance to. I was desperate to pass that test, like many other small town kids are and forever will be. I’m sure that if my town was full of moralizing liberal hippies, I would have a knee-jerk negative reaction to that. But as it stands, my town was full of people who thought Obama was an evil Muslim socialist who wanted to take our guns, and by the time I was eighteen years old, I wanted to get as far away from that as humanly possible.

While I was looking for colleges, a liberal atmosphere was one of the main things I was after. Granted, I wasn’t gay save for a solitary girl-crush my senior year. My friends and I didn’t do any drugs, and we weren’t fans of drinking. I wasn’t promiscuous. But I already identified as a humanist at that point and was very concerned with not automatically judging anyone who indulged in any of those things as long as they weren’t harming themselves or others. I was tired of the hypocritical small town conservatism where they hated marijuana but didn’t seem to care about their neighbor being addicted to meth, and where God loved all His creations but still didn’t care much for the homosexuals. I wanted to be in a place that accepted gay people. I wanted to be in a place where I could talk about being okay with legalizing marijuana without getting yelled at about the inherent moral depravity of drugs. I wanted to be in a place where I wasn’t afraid to admit that I didn’t believe in God.

I wanted to be at a liberal arts college. So that’s where I went.

I took the ACT and a few subject tests, aced my advanced placement courses, got a full-ride to an impressive liberal arts college a 2-hour plane ride away, and I was ecstatic. Going to college was the first time I’d ever flown on a plane or taken a taxi. I was out of my element, to say the very least.

* * *

The title is a bit intentionally click-baity, as I don’t think that I was ever a full-blown SJW. I say that because the atmosphere of my new college was really great . . . for a week. Yes, this is truly one of those “the grass is always greener on the other side” stories, as cliched as that moral is.

I knew full-well about how hyper-liberal my chosen college was. This was not an example of my family being afraid of an evil Northern college rotting my brain and turning me into a Communist. My family highly values education in a very blanket sense. They don’t know what the Ivy League is, but they know college is important, and I showed them my school’s spot on the Forbe’s college list, and they were impressed. So as soon as they figured out that I got a full-ride, they had no qualms with it. They didn’t worry about the politics of the place at all.

No, all my warnings came from the internet. Like any nerdy high school senior with a home computer, I did ravenous amounts of research on the colleges I wanted to go to. I visited the official website and student blogs and web forums and Reddit pages all in an attempt to get the most accurate picture possible of my choices. The general consensus was this: Academics are A+, but its liberal politics are seriously out of hand. Like any nerdy high school senior with a serious case of Desperate-to-Leave-Her-Small-Town Syndrome, I ignored those warnings. I wrote them off as people with right-leaning politics who just didn’t do enough research before choosing their school. Of course it was a super-liberal place, why were they so bitter and surprised about it? They should’ve went to Georgetown or Notre Dame if they wanted a more conservative atmosphere.

I get it now.

* * *

As I said, my fabulous Liberal Wonderland that was everything I had hoped and dreamed of in a college lasted all of a week before I started to get tired with it all. That’s not to say that I missed the politics of my hometown, but I clued in very quickly to what I had previously thought was impossible. I associated conservatism with religiosity and repressive social practices, and I associated liberalism with live-and-let-live acceptance, and I didn’t think you could have too much acceptance. Turns out, I was wrong.

I was much more dedicated to social justice ideas upon entering college. This was mainly because of my fervent support of gay rights. I actually planned on being more of an activist for minority groups in college even though I hadn’t had much experience. Because of that interest, I was accepted into a week-long program that happened before official orientation that was all about social justice and activism and all that cool stuff.

The experience wasn’t awful, by any means. Some of my happiest memories of college–and in general–take place during this program. Despite my fervent support of gay rights, I was very ill-informed about transgender people and had a negative opinion of them that wasn’t all that warranted, and I genuinely do appreciate the program informing me more about what being trans actually meant. With that being said, it was during that seven-day program that I learned social justice wasn’t for me.

I was fine with telling people my preferred pronouns every time I introduced myself. I was fine with talking about gender identity. I was fine with acknowledging white privilege and male privilege, and I ascribed to feminism wholeheartedly. I find it important to note those things, because, on paper, it seems like I should have been all for stereotypical social justice warriorism. But I could never fully buy into it because, from day one, it came across as extremely cynical to me, and it wasn’t an atmosphere that I took kindly to even if I agreed with plenty of its points.

I distinctly remember doing a Privilege Walk on the second day of the program. For those of you who don’t know what that is: You stand in a line, and you close your eyes, and someone reads off a list, and every time a point pertains to you, you take a step forward. The idea is, the people who take the most steps have the most privilege, and vice versa. So there were questions like “My family owns our house,” “I’ve never been followed in a store,” “I’m a man,” etc. etc. I didn’t mind the walk itself as much as I minded the discussion afterwards, where we were all told to open our eyes and gaze upon our disparate amounts of privilege. It was all very somber and sad and self-pitying, and I eventually just had to make a comment about how I was actually very encouraged by what I saw because, no matter how far behind or ahead people were at the end of the Privilege Walk, we still all wound up in the same place: at a good college, with people who support us, and good prospects ahead of us. My optimism was apparently a surprising thing to hear.

The rest of the week was like that. It was lots and lots of encouraging people to navel-gaze about how bad they had it in the most cynical way possible. I remember going to a small caucus group for black students that could essentially be summed up as: “Tell us about all the even slightly racist things that have ever happened to you, and tell us about how awful they made you feel, and if you can’t think of anything or it didn’t make you feel bad, we’ll convince you otherwise.” At one point another girl, who has gone full SJW four years later, questioned the need for racial affinity groups on-campus, and she was essentially told never to question how necessary they were again because they obviously were, end of story.

I wasn’t a fan of the cynicism. I wasn’t a fan of the automatic disregarding of ideas that didn’t fit within our little liberal bubble. I wasn’t a fan of the superfluous social niceties that had you feeling like you were walking on eggshells whenever you were talking to a new person. I wasn’t a fan of the “intent vs. impact” idea they enforced that treated people’s intentions as irrelevant. So I couldn’t buy into it entirely, even back then.

* * *

 It still took me some time to become totally disillusioned, but I had already decided that the social justice activism scene just wasn’t for me. It came across as incredibly histrionic and exclusionary from the get-go. There was lots of internal drama, and lots of molehills being made into mountains for our brave campus activists to surpass, and it seemed like a very toxic environment that I didn’t want to be around. So I had to find some other way to be a good liberal.

Early in my college career, I decided to look into Democratic Socialism as a potential political label. I wound up taking a train to a four-day long Democratic Socialists of America conference in New York. I still have the pin they gave me, I still get DSA emails, and the conference convinced me that the DSA wasn’t for me either. It’s largely for the same reasons. I feel like I was privy to one genuinely productive discussion for the entirety of those four days (It was about helping the working class.), and the rest was once again a whole lot of overly-negative naval gazing about how bad we all had it for various reasons. I even mentioned to one of the friends I made there that I thought the conference’s habit of breaking up people into demographic groups to talk to them separately seemed really unhelpful, and I didn’t and still don’t think his justification for it was all that satisfactory.

In addition to that, though, there was a healthy dose of the casual straight white male hatred that is so common in SJW circles nowadays. Sitting in a room full of people having a hearty laugh about how disappointing it was that a good book was written by a straight white guy made me extremely uncomfortable, to say the very least. These were not bad people. And they weren’t stupid people. What I learned from that conference was that Democratic Socialists throw awesome house parties, and have very rousing conversations over dinner, and are willing to leave their house at 1am during a blizzard to find you after you accidentally get lost on the subway and wind up in Harlem. And their social politics are extremely off-putting when you put them all together in a room to talk about them.

* * *

My final disillusionment ultimately came during the two times when I genuinely tried to give social-justice-style community work and social activism its chance. I was already mainly against it. I thought it wasn’t nuanced. I thought it divided people more than it united them. But I was still willing to give it a chance if I thought it could do some good.

Since I care about education, I joined a tutoring program that tutored low-income, mainly minority students in their after-school programs. We helped with their homework, and went over their quizzes, did cool science experiments, all that jazz. I enjoyed doing it. I found one nerdy black elementary schooler and took him under my wing, and it was all going great. Then my location changed, and I no longer had my little mentee, and I had a new site coordinator–one of my classmates.

While going to my new location with her and the new batch of tutors I was working with, I witnessed the most ridiculously racist conversation on the face of the planet that made me drop the tutoring program entirely because there was no way I was going to work with a bunch of raging racists even if I did like helping kids study. Essentially, my Latina site coordinator thought that she’d go off on an unsolicited rant against two strangers who worked at the community center we were tutoring at. It was a rant about how she hates white people, and about how she’s so glad that all of us were people of color, and about how those horrible white boys need to get out of our way because they ruin everything and don’t care about minorities, and about how she wished white people just weren’t around. This is not paraphrased, by the way.

Those “horrible white boys” turned out to be locals in that low-income community who volunteered as coaches for a program that taught kids various sports in an attempt to keep them away from drugs and other illegal things. When she found out that they cared about minorities after all and weren’t just two white boys hogging the gym to shoot some hoops, she begrudgingly acknowledged that maybe they were okay but she still hates white people in general. That disgusted me. My fellow tutors’ reaction to it–to nod and agree–disgusted me. The fact that that racist cunt prided herself on how she was able to teach children disgusted me. And the fact that she felt perfectly comfortable telling me that she hated a race of people and wanted them gone all because my skin tone apparently dictates that I agree with that sentiment disgusted me.

Needless to say, I never talked to any of them again.

The final nail in the coffin was something very similar: me, trying to give a group with a good premise a chance and quickly becoming disillusioned with the entire thing because everyone around me was an asshole. I decided to join the new club that helped and advocated for low-income students. I’ve been very open about how I don’t think elite institutions care about class or the hardships being low-income places on students in those academic environments. I thought the club was a great idea. I signed up for it. I became a Big Sibling to an underclassmen. I participated in panels and talked to the administration about things they could do to help people who don’t have any money to spare.

Then, one night, I met the girls in charge of the group. We were sitting around a table putting candy in plastic bags and talking about the group dynamics of the club. It was at that point that the two girls who formed the group decided to–you guessed it–go on an unsolicited rant against a random person who had done nothing wrong. In this case, they overtly laughed at a white guy who didn’t appreciate people on campus constantly telling him that he had privilege because he was a straight white guy–and, as a side effect, providing him with less help and support than the “oppressed” people. This was a boy who was forced to go “home” every winter break to the backseat of a car, to live off of McDonald’s coupons for a month, whose parents abused him, who didn’t have a penny to his name. And apparently the very notion that he didn’t want to be treated like he was privileged when he so obviously wasn’t was laughable. His concerns were stupid and could be dismissed without a second thought.

And those were the people who apparently cared about low-income students. Those were the people who wanted to help, who wanted to make a group that wasn’t about racial demographics, who wanted to focus on class for fucking once. But apparently white men can still go fuck themselves. They don’t deserve any sympathy. They’re given enough of it from everyone else.

* * *

That was the point that I gave up on “social justice” and its very conditional sympathy for the downtrodden, rivaled only by the small town conservatism that cared about all of God’s creatures unless they were fags. That was when I gave up on the political ideology that kept trying to censor art and media, like it was the 1980s again and they were the pearl-clutching Christian mothers afraid that D&D and Frank Zappa would turn their children to Satan.

And maybe you could say that I’m throwing the baby out with the bathwater when I reject social justice as a concept. But I don’t think so. They had good ideas that were difficult to object to–acceptance and diversity and social support. I’m not denying that. And I’m not denying that there are many people who ascribe to social justice who are still holding onto that vague set of genuinely good ideas as principles to uphold. But social justice as a copyrighted, trademarked political institution with leaders and interest groups that lobby the government and speak on television and make course syllabi for college students . . . that social justice is ruined, in my opinion.

That bathwater is boiling, and that baby is dead.

#HangAyazNizami and Other Thoughts from Our Favorite Peaceful People

Time to shake things up a bit with something that is immediately awful and harmful, and something I have a hard time being sarcastically dismissive about. So strap in, I guess. If you haven’t read my post from a while quite a while ago, I am an atheist, so the topic I’ll be talking about hits closer to home than usual. I may bitch a lot about BLM and feminism and how I think they’re awful for the most part, which I do, don’t get me wrong; but in the end of the day, I can only care so much about things I feel obligated to address just to break the stereotype that all women/black people/etc. think X thing. Religious beliefs, though, are actually something you can choose about yourself, something that actually says something about you as a person, something that actually informs who you are as a unique human being. As a general rule, anything that involves being harmed or abused for the damnable crime of “thinking the wrong things” really disturbs me as a concept, so that on top of me being an atheist makes the Ayaz Nizami debacle resonate with me a great deal.

For some background: Ayaz Nizami is a Pakistani atheist who, along with reportedly two other atheists, was arrested for blasphemy after posting on a few atheist Facebook pages and online forums. This follows right on the footsteps of an atheist in neighboring India, H. Farook, being hacked to death with sickles by a mob for expressing atheistic sentiments online. People have taken to the internet expressing themselves about what the punishment for blasphemy should be, which is why #HangAyazNizami was trending. I guess we know what the consensus is.

This is the same country where tens of thousands of people supported and mourned the death of an assassin of a government official who wanted to protect Christian minorities. This is the same country where the government has actively given a call to arms to its people to start seeking out and reporting blasphemy, particularly of the anti-Islam kind, to be punished. According to Pew researchers, the Middle East and North Africa are the main places where you can still find laws against blasphemy (18 out of the 20 countries) and apostasy (14 out of the 20 countries), with Pakistan being one of the harshest, often sentencing blasphemers to the death penalty. Other countries are nicer and just send people to prison for 2-15 years. Aren’t they reasonable?

* * *

For some more nice info about Pakistan in particular: 61% of them think that there is only one interpretation of Sharia law, 84% of them are in favor of making it the law of the land, 87% of them think religious judges should handle disputes, 89% think stoning is an apt punishment for adultery, 76% think apostasy from Islam should warrant the death penalty, 91% think it’s bad that their country doesn’t follow Sharia more closely, 88% think a wife should always obey her husband, 26% think that a woman has the right to a divorce, 85% think that it’s necessary to believe in god to be moral, 93% think sex outside marriage is morally wrong, 90% think homosexuality is immoral, 71% think divorce is immoral, a bit more than half think honor killings are justified, and 87% think society should not accept homosexuality, which falls in line with the mainly-Muslim countries where not even younger generations are slightly more accepting of it.

I put these stats there for a nice micro-example of how these are not “fringe” notions. It’s not 1% of Muslims with extreme, fundamentalist ideas who think apostates should be killed and that gay people are evil and that women have to defer to their husbands, even legally. These are not uncommon ideas to have in overtly Muslim societies. And I’m sure that if you asked the people who gave their answers to this poll, they’d say there were religious moderates. Yes, the lovely moderates we hear so much about, the ones who are peaceful and fine and just minding their own business.

* * *

I’m not a fan of religion. There are days where I actively despise it as a concept. The Abrahamic religions (Christianity, Judaism, and Islam) are awful and mostly incoherent, and I used to be inclined to give the more Eastern-centric religions a break . . . until finding out about the whole “using Reincarnation as an excuse to hate and further the abuse poor people” thing, after which I threw in the towel and admitted to myself that making excuses for religion was pointless. This isn’t me saying that religion causes bad things to happen. I mentioned in my original post about atheism that I think people would find excuses to be crazy and violent even if religion wasn’t a thing. That being said, I think religion gives people an excuse to be violent and explicit groups of people who it is morally acceptable to mistreat or treat as lesser than you. “There are other stupid things in the world,” doesn’t strike me as a particularly compelling argument for why religion should just be given a pass and treated like some great thing.

This most recent happening with Ayaz Nizami (who, best case scenario if no one steps in, is going to be imprisoned for the rest of his life) just serves as yet another all-too-frequent example of an idea being granted the title of sacrosanct. This is what happens when a large group of people decides that their ideas should never be criticized. Should never even be joked about or made fun of. Should never be questioned. And this is why it annoys me to all hell when people in the US and Canada and Britain and Germany trip over themselves to defend Islam from any criticism, doing nothing but reaffirming this already-ridiculous notion that it should automatically be regarded with the highest of respects.

You have Majid Nawaz and Ayan Hirsi Ali of all people being labeled as dangerous Islamophobic bigots. You have social media sites actively guarding against “Islamophbic, hateful content.” But, rest assured, all the tweets unironically calling for a man to be hung in the streets for speaking against Islam are still readily available to be seen by anyone who wants them.

You have Canada passing motions that make “Islamophobia” something that can get you in federal trouble, because how dare you not respect someone’s religious affiliation. How is this not some glorified blasphemy law? How? And why does no other religion get it? I’m guessing it’d still be okay for me to go on over to Canada and call a Christian photographer who’s just not feeling up to snapping photos at a gay wedding an insufferably moralistic cunt. It’s okay to not give two fucks about the religious convictions of a Christian, but expressing displeasure with the religion that has currently provided the world with almost 500 violent attacks (most of them small scale, which is why they aren’t newsworthy at this point) in the last 3 months isn’t allowed. All in the name of tolerance. Muslims should be insulted by this. They are being depicted as either a.) ticking time-bombs who are going to literally explode the second they feel disrespected or b.) fragile victims who crumble under criticism of their apparently deeply held beliefs, even when criticism of all the other religious beliefs is seen as fine and normal.

I understand why this is happening. People want to be kind. They want to be tolerant. They want to be good people. There actually was a rash of genuine Muslim-hatred after 9/11, back when you could throw a rock and hit somebody who thought we should nuke all of the towelheads and kick all the sand niggers out of our country. I understand feeling bad about that and seeking atonement for it. But we’ve gotten to the point of overcompensating. In our attempts to prove that we don’t hate Muslims, we are over-correcting past missteps by giving the Islamic religion a pass for things that we wouldn’t otherwise accept.

A Christian shoots up an abortion clinic and kills 5 people? Christianity is awful. A Muslim shoots up a club and kills 30? Well, he was indoctrinated into America’s strong anti-gay sentiments. People aren’t allowed to wear any identifying religious garb at a certain business . . . unless a Muslim girl wants to wear a headscarf, in which case it’s an outrage that she can’t wear her religious garb. A Christian doesn’t want to bake a cake for some gay people? Screw their religion. A Muslim doesn’t want to be taught by a woman in the classroom? Well, that’s their religious belief, so . . .

I’ll provide a quick anecdote. One day, some friends and I were discussing a professor from another university who was a sexual predator yet inexplicably hasn’t been fired just because he was such a big deal in academic circles. He sexually harassed and groped female students. At one point he outright drugged a girl, and she woke up an indeterminate amount of time later topless, on his lap, with his hand in between her legs. On another occasion, he asked a female Muslim student for a kiss, and pulled off her headscarf while he yanked her closer to him, after which she pulled away and left. Now, both incidents completely and utterly disrespect the wishes and bodily autonomy of another human being. That being said, I think we can all agree that being outright drugged and raped is worse than having an accessory pulled off your head while someone roughly grabs your arm. Guess which incident my friends thought was the more deplorable, punchable thing for that man to do? Hint: they didn’t want to punch him until they found out he pulled off a Muslim girl’s headscarf, because that would make her feel really bad.

It is nothing but people scrambling to prove how tolerant they are, to the point where they are willing to sacrifice their other principles to do it. “Muslim women are the best feminists” being one of the most egregious examples of this. Yeah, have fun going to feminist bastion Saudi Arabia and being physically assaulted in public for not wearing a headscarf. To be fair, many countries are overcompensating in the opposite direction, taking into account legitimate fears and translating that into counterproductive policies like outright banning burkinis and whatnot. What people don’t seem to realize is that religious freedom means having the freedom to practice a religion as long as that practice doesn’t impose on the rights of others and having the freedom to criticize that religion mercilessly, if you so choose.

Meanwhile, as Canada enacts the first steps of its anti-Islamophobia motion, Ayaz Nizami is going to be put to death for criticizing Islam, and Ayan Hirsi Ali is sleeping with armed guards outside her bedroom, and Majid Nawaz is getting death threats, and the former editor of Charlie Hebdo is at risk of losing money over committing hate speech, all because they said something unkind about the religion of peace.

 

LGBT Muslims and Cognitive Dissonance

I’m responding to a video from MTV News that pretty much came out a millennia ago in internet time. It’s pretty old. It came out two months ago. But I still feel the need to respond to it because it continues to be overwhelmingly relevant to the current conversation and stupifyingly oblivious treatment that the religion of Islam is given. The video is titled What it’s Like Being LGBTQ & Muslim. I don’t know about you guys, but I’m offended that they left out my intersex and asexual brothers in their gay letter pile up. Everybody knows it’s LGBTQIA+ now, guys. Come on. It’s 2016.

What it’s like to be LGBTQ and Muslim, huh? I can only imagine that it’s very interesting. Fucking gay Christians still have to jump through some mental hoops to justify those two conflicting parts of their identity, and (in the US at least) there are relatively few instances of extremist Christians doing anything worse than inconveniencing them. So being LGBT and Muslim has to be extra difficult. The cognitive load these people are under must be immense.

I wake up every morning and wonder “What identity am I gonna be killed for today?”

Seeing as how murderous hate crimes against Muslims are borderline non-existent in the US and Americans on average have a more favorable view of Muslims than Muslims have of Americans, I’m going to go ahead and say the gay thing is probably your best bet as far as ‘what am I gonna get killed over today?’ goes. Especially if you’re living in a religious community. Then again, I’d advise against waking up with 100% that today is the day you’re going to die in a hate crime. That seems a bit overly cynical. Some cognitive therapy might help with that.  

That’s how you’re going to open the video? Really?

You have Donald Trump tweeting “LGBT people, I’m here to protect you,” but at the same time he also says in the same tweet, “We’re gonna protect you from the people trying to kill you.” So one part of me he wasn’t to protect and fight for, but on the other side he wants to ban me.

I don’t want to be a Donald Trump apologist or anything (disclaimer: he is stupid), but he just supported gay rights here. I know this is MTV, the new bastion of leftist social politics, but are you not even going to give the guy credit where credit is due and admit that he said something progressive and supportive of a minority group? No? The guy can do no right, huh?

This is also a fucking retarded statement. Let me get this straight: You identify as an LGBT person, and you also identify as someone who wants to kill LGBT people? No one explicitly said Muslim, here. Not Trump, and not the guy commenting on Trump. In both cases, it’s implicitly acknowledged that people who want to kill [LGBT people] means Islamists. The guy who is arguing against this mentality just went right on to perpetuate that mentality by inherently acknowledging that they’re one in the same thing. He is outright copping to the fact that being Muslim more often than not entails being anti-gay, and he’s still going to complain about what Trump said. No cognitive dissonance here, folks!

This is the equivalent of a gay rights person talking about the struggles they’ve faced in America, with everyone in the audience inherently assuming that they’re talking about fundamentalist Christians even if it’s never explicitly mentioned. And rightfully so. You didn’t see very many Buddhists speaking out against gay rights. The issue here is that the entire point of this video is to say “Muslims didn’t do nuffin,” and in the first ten seconds, one of the people they’re interviewing makes the fundamentalist Muslim/people who don’t like me conflation seemingly without even realizing it.

You fail at your job MTV. You can’t even make propaganda right.

Where does that leave LGBT Muslims?

In a really shitty room full of hoops to jump through, I’d say.

Basically it feels like my identities are being used against each other.

What? Just, what? WHAT. G:IJIODGHSI:OGDIGODJ:FD FDFD:LGK D:F

Fucking shit. This video is going to be the end of me. It is actually going to kill me.

It feels like your identities are being used against each other because you know — you FUCKING KNOW — that the majority of people who follow your religion (yes, even the moderate ones in Western countries we love to bring up) are explicitly opposed to homosexuality. You know this, and you’re just ignoring it. You’re ignoring it in favor of acting like the people who legitimately point out the personal and intellectual dishonesty you’re engaging in are the bad guys.

This is actually making me angry. This is despicable. There are LGBT dying every day in Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia and Egypt because courts majorly influenced by Islamic law say that being gay warrants a death sentence. People are dying. They’re being run out of their homes by their own family members. They’re being sent to prison. They’re being victimized by their government. They’re being forced into unnecessary and unwanted sex change surgeries to “fix” what’s wrong with them. And you are sitting there in a fucking MTV studio in LA or New York or San Fran, some nice, cushy first-world office where you are perfectly safe and supported by everyone around you, complaining about how it just doesn’t make any sense to you why people who care about gay rights are opposed to your religion. And it’s even more disingenuous when you’re probably the same kind of person who chomps at the bit to talk about how badly Christians treat gay people, but all of a sudden when it’s your religion people are rightfully pointing out as regressive and hateful that just doesn’t make any sense.

There are people out there, Muslims and ex-Muslims and every other kind of person, fighting to reform the religion you love so much. They’re fighting to bring Islam into the modern age to protect people like you! And you could help. You could be the change you want to see by being openly LGBT and Muslim and exposing the people of your religion to someone like you so that they realize that you’re just a normal person. You can work towards that reform. But you’re standing there with your head in the sand denying that there’s any problem that needs fixing, denying that there’s any reform that should be done because you have an okay time being gay and Muslim so you just don’t see what the problem is. Tell that to the people in prison right now. Fuck you. Seriously.

This is the equivalent of Alice being punched repeatedly in the face by Bob, but when Charlie comes to tell Bob off for his behavior, Charlie is the one Alice gets pissy with because Bob is an old friend and she doesn’t like people yelling at him, all while her face is swelling up to the size of a watermelon.

We get heckled. We get harassed by the NYPD. Not just as queer people, or people who look different, or gender non-conforming, or trans. But also we get harassed and surveyed because we’re Muslim.

It’s not the world’s job to accept you. If you’re going to walk around wallowing in how different you are, you’re going to have to deal with not everyone accepting you. That’s just how it is. As for the Muslim thing: You choose to be Muslim. Islam is a thing people choose to believe. It is not some inherent part of their identity that they’re born into and can’t change. When you choose to believe something, it is your job to justify that belief, and the negative implication of that belief are the weight that you’ve chosen to bare. This is like a Scientologist getting pissy about how no one trusts them and everyone judges them and thinks they’re crazy. That’s what you deal with when you join a religion infamous for being full of crazy people. And being surveyed by the authorities is what you deal with when you join a religion infamous for inciting criminal behavior. Maybe you should, I don’t know, try to reform that religion so that’s no longer the first thing that comes to people’s minds when they hear about it. But wait, Muslims didn’t do nuffin. I forgot.

I think the term “radical Islam” is a term that’s overused. But I also feel like it’s a term that can be applied to any religion, any community.

This is the biggest non-argument ever made in defense of Islam. Other things are bad too, guys! Why can’t we just talk about those then? Why are you talking about my bad thing?! Yeah, I know the Salem witch trials happened and killed lots of innocent people and were overtly influenced by Protestant doctrine and religiosity, but look at all the shit Catholics have done! Catholics did bad things, so why are you singling out Protestants? The witch trials had nothing to do with Protestant ideas because other people also did bad things for other reasons, which means talking about religion in this case is pretty much pointless. It had nothing to do with it. You can apply the term “religious fundamentalism” to anything!

Said no one ever because everyone is perfectly fine with talking about the negative effects and implications of a religion as long as it’s not Islam. Islam is fucking sacred and is only responsible for the good things it encourages and has nothing to do with anything bad.

We talk about radical Islam because it is the religion causing the most problems right now. Oh, why don’t we talk about Christians? They don’t like gay people either. Sorry to break it to you, guys, but this is laughable. Out of all the places that have outlawed homosexuality, one of them is Christian (Uganda) and the rest are Muslim. Even though there is some Christianity-fueled anti-gay sentiments left in the US, the West in general seems to have accepted the notion that gay people exist and can do what they want. So a Christian doesn’t bake someone a wedding cake, or the Westboro Baptist Church ruins another beloved celebrity’s funeral. They aren’t hurting anyone. The worst, most damaging things that still happen somewhat frequently are that maybe some Southern Baptist parents kick their gay son out of the house or force him into conversion therapy (which is quickly becoming illegal nation-wide). You can call them assholes all you want, and you would be correct. Those are deplorable things to do. But the instances of that are going down, and it sure as fuck isn’t written into our federal laws that we should kill gay people and even the most fundamentalist Christian in the Bible Belt wouldn’t agree to that, unlike many fundamentalist Muslims who think the death sentences for fags is okay. You are patently ignoring that modern Christian fundamentalism and modern Muslim fundamentalism are too very different things that can’t be conflated with a “but both of them are bad” shoulder shrug.

What do they mean when they say radical Islamism? Who do they mean? They’re using this term to comfort people in America that, “Look, we know what it is. It’s radical Islamism. And we need to kill it. And we need to survey them. And we need to deport them.

You know what we mean, you stupid fucking-

I’m done. We’re pointing out that we know what it is we need to stop because radical Islam turned into a political movement is overtly the thing causing so many problems. What, would you be against us labeling the Nazis as the guys we’re fighting and need to stop? ISIS has control over major states and releases propaganda about how they’re attacking the West because it’s full of sinners. Nah duh we’re identifying that as the problem we’re going up against.

When people use radial Islam, it just feels like the Boogeyman.

Yeah. If the Boogeyman was real and killed hundreds of people a day and indoctrinated them into a radical belief system that glorified above all else dying while fighting the infidels and victimized mainly the other Boogeymen around it for not being “Boogey enough” but has quickly started branching out to kill people en mass in other countries, yeah, it’d be like the Boogeyman then. I see your point.

You realize you would be killed by these people for being a bad Muslim, right? You realize this? You being a Muslim doesn’t protect you from radical Islam anymore than it protected the hundreds of people in the Middle East being subjugated right now.

Being trans-gender in this day and time is rough, especially with everything going on. And being Muslim is also. But I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

Wouldn’t trade it for the world, huh? Let me fly on over to the war-torn deserts of Syria and ask some of those people being terrorized by radical Islamic regimes if they wouldn’t trade it for the world. Let me run on down to the Egyptian prison system and ask the gay man imprisoned for life in barely livable conditions for no other reason than he likes to take dick up his ass sometimes if he wouldn’t trade his situation for the world. Let me ask the gay man in Iran who avoided a prison sentence by being coerced into male-to-female sex change surgery so that his interest in men would be okay if he wouldn’t trade it for the world. Let me ask the woman in Saudi Arabia desperately trying to seek asylum in another country because she’s been accused of adultery but can’t leave because her abusive husband won’t give her her passport if she wouldn’t change it for the world.

This just goes to show how fucking sheltered these people are. They live in the first-world. Nice, Western societies that don’t have to worry about religious insurgent groups, that support their tendency to sit there and navel gaze about their own identity and go on TV to talk about their brainless musings to other people. They have good lives. They wouldn’t change it for the world, because nothing about their life is all that fucking bad no matter how much they insist that they are oppressed.

I want people to recognize that a lot of us live in these intersections that aren’t super clear. Our love lives are really complex, and our family lives are really complex, and our relationship to religion is really complex.

Yeah, I fucking bet it’s complex. I have a complex life too. Balancing my identity as a black woman with my firm belief in Neo-Nazism gets pretty tough sometimes. But I’m complex, and my relationship with my political beliefs is complex. When people point out to me that being a black Neo-Nazi is kind of suicidally stupid and contradictory at the most basic level, that’s just a sign of them not getting it. Neo-Nazis are a fine group that haven’t done anything to warrant that totally false negative judgement. I keep trying to explain this to people, and it never works. That’s the cross I bare, I guess.

I hope that after this tragedy we have a more meaningful conversation about how we can more forward, not just as separate communities but as people who live in this country, as people who want the best for humanity.

Meaningful conversations! Like when we totally avoid the elephant in the room about how modern Islam is overtly and oftentimes violently anti-gay and then go on to make a two minute long video about how we just don’t get why anti-gay and Muslim are conflated so often. Logic.

Herp de derp.

Guns and Islamophobia in the West

I, oddly enough, haven’t touched on the topics of Islam or guns. Despite it being one of the focal points of left-leaning apologetics  and victim blaming, I’ve somehow bypassed it as a topic. But the largest mass shooting in the US just happened, and the perpetrator is, to the disappointment of leftists everywhere, not a right-leaning racist Conservative, but a Muslim. How surprising, except not at all. This is going to be less snarky than usual, as I’m honestly just trying to work this out in my own mind.

First and foremost, I extend my deepest sympathies to those affected by this shooting. Homosexuality is not and should not be a death sentence, and people who think that it is a crime at all, let alone a crime worthy of death, are bigots. There’s no beating around that bush. This was an evil act.

That being said, I’ve never liked how people have responded to these events. The coverage and reaction always comes across to me as extremely disrespectful and self-serving. The victims aren’t even in the ground yet, and the Washington Post is publishing stories about the last terrified text messages they sent their families before they died. It just doesn’t sit right with me to turn a tragedy into a news spectacle.

It reminds me of the scenes in Heathers where the school wants to commemorate the girl who died by putting her suicide note in a ‘tasteful’ yearbook spread, or where the funeral of two teens is turned into a sermon on LGBT acceptance. Innocent people have died, and people on both the left and the right wasted no fucking time in using what has happened as another footnote in their attempts to prove a political point against the opposition. They wasted no time at all. They didn’t even know how many people died before my Facebook feed was flooded with people calling Trump a bigot, or deriding the evils of gun nuts, or the evils of people who want to take our guns, or anything fucking else.

I guess I’m doing the same thing now, using a tragedy as an excuse to talk about my own political views. That’s the dilemma. You can’t talk about this without seeming like an opportunist to some degree. So I might as well embrace that moral/ethical ambiguity and try to make a point. As always, it’s a fight about guns and a fight about the causes of terrorism.

1.) I don’t think guns should be banned, which is what a lot of people have been saying. I also don’t think the situation would be helped by everybody having a gun, which is the counter argument the right has. Both of these are knee-jerk emotional reactions centered on unrealistic idealism. To make another pop culture reference because that’s the lens I view shit through: just go watch the Always Sunny in Philadelphia episode about guns where the Good Ole Boys learn that guns make things more dangerous than they already are while the liberals are across town simultaneously learning that everybody having a gun actually does make things safer. Then the episode just ends. That’s how I feel about things: unresolved.

While I think gun control in America could/should be reformed, I don’t think it would stop mass shootings as much as it would stop accidental gun violence and deaths. The shooter in Orlando purchased his guns legally, and while all my liberal friends are saying it’s a reason why getting guns should be more difficult, they don’t seem to have an actual plan. “More difficult” how? I think mandatory safety and training courses after/before gun purchase is a good idea to make people more competent around their firearms (again, decreasing accidental shootings), but how is that going to stop a guy who has decided to go on a mass shooting? Many people say getting a gun should be like getting a driver’s license, and sure, fine, but I don’t see how that would deter mass shootings either. You can stop people with criminal histories from purchasing guns legally, but that doesn’t mean they can’t get a hold of a gun just because they can’t go to a store and buy one. And what about the mass shooters who had no criminal past, who wouldn’t have been declined legal purchase? It’s a complicated fucking issue. And it’s childishly oversimplified to act as though the solution to the problem is “No more guns!” or “Even more guns!”

It’s just two groups of people who already know what they think, who are going to steadfastly adhere to what they already think on principle, using this as an excuse to continue their perpetual argument. All while giving the very distinct impression that they give more fucks about proving a point than they do about the tragedy that just happened. At least the NRA stands up for gun rights consistently. You hardly ever see liberals care about the issue unless it’s topical, and then it’s suddenly the most important political fight of our time, write your Congressman! Demand change!

2.) Then there’s the issue of Islamophobia and how it is utterly stunting our ability to talk about this or the last ten tragedies big enough to get in the news. I’m an atheist. I’ve been one since I was in middle school. I think religions as a general rule encourage intellectual dishonesty and egocentrism. I don’t like them. I don’t like Christianity. I don’t like Judaism. I don’t like Hinduism. And no, I don’t like Islam either.

If you want to call me Islamophobic, go right ahead. I’ll cop to that. Yes, I am openly afraid of an ideology that has prompted people to throw gays off of rooftops and regard their women as worth only half of a man. I’m afraid of an ideology that encourages and justifies horrible actions, that isn’t allowed to be criticized, isn’t even allowed to be brought up in conversation lest you be labeled racist.

If a Christian bakery refuses to bake a cake for a gay wedding, there is moral outrage. Defame those people! Fire them! Shame them! Make sure they never get a single customer again because they are bigots! Their religious convictions are stupid and hateful and behind the times, and shouldn’t exempt them from human decency! If a Christian has an issue with abortion, they hate women! They follow a religion that is patriarchal and sexist, and they need to stop imposing their religious beliefs on everyone else. Favoring a single religion and its specific convictions when making laws is wrong. If someone doesn’t want transgender people in their bathroom, it’s because we live in an awful, prejudiced culture that encourages hatred and violence towards trans people by depicting them all as perverts. If a white kid in the South shoots up a church, it’s because we live in a white supremacist society that inherently devalues black lives and encourages racism and violence against black bodies. If a guy shoots up a school, it’s because toxic masculinity and a culture of male entitlement made him a violently accurate reflection of the world we live in and how it views women.

If a Muslim shoots up a magazine office or blows up a building or fires into a gay club or sexually assaults a woman in public, though? There were no cultural influences to be found there! Their religion is irrelevant and had no impact on them or their actions in any capacity! They were representative of nothing and no one but themselves! Their actions aren’t reflective of negative cultural or religious elements at all. Shut up.

If I could impress one idea onto the brain of everyone around me, it would be this: Ideas and states of being are not commensurate. You can’t connect all white people to the shooting in Charleston because “white people” do not inherently share any traits together. You can’t connect Elliot Roger to all men because having a dick makes them similar to Elliot Roger the same way me having a vagina makes me similar to Sarah Palin. You can’t connect all women to the UVA rape hoax or Mattress Girl because being a woman says nothing about what you actually have in common with other people who also happen to be women. White and man and woman are states.

You know what isn’t a state? Muslim.

Christianity. Islam. Yada yada yada. These are ideas. They are things you choose about yourself. You actually know something about a person if the only information you have is that they’re Muslim. If the only information you have about a person is “He’s a man.” you know nothing about what they think and believe. Ideas, though, give you a better idea.

Following a mutual religion entails that you have something in common. It entails that you can be grouped together as similar parties. You have ideas in common. You have beliefs and customs and cultures in common. The Holy Book that openly informs your world view is the same Holy Book people use to justify killing and mistreating people. They’re not two separate things. The terrorists chopping off peoples’ heads for blasphemy aren’t reading from a different book than you. That is why people are “Islamophobic.” You are openly showing that you subscribe to the same belief system as a group that uses that belief system as an excuse to commit evil acts. Christians have actually been made to own up to this. You cannot have a conversation on Christianity without the resident Christian having to own up to the shit their religion has justified. Muslims have not.

And in order to combat “Islamophobia,” you need to make it absolutely clear that you are in opposition to these people. Not by saying they’re “no true Muslim,” because they fucking are. Their interpretation of the Book is no more right than yours. They can justify their actions by pointing to something Mohammed said just like you can. And I understand. People don’t like associating with the bad apples. But you can’t cut them off of the tree if you don’t acknowledge that they’re there first. According to Muslim apologists, they’re in an entirely different orchard. This isn’t helping.

I have Muslim friends. But my friend Mohammed who eats bacon and prays when it’s not inconvenient and loves 90s American pop culture is not the face of people who believe in Islam. Terrorists aren’t either. But they’re at least on the same fucking tree by virtue of overtly following the same belief system. To deny that would be like a Christian saying that Christian beliefs had no relevance to the events of the witch trials because the Protestants “weren’t real Christians.”

Religion evolves with the times. That’s how it’s existed for so long. But Islam has paradoxically grown by refusing to change at all. In order for Islam to reform itself into a more modern religion that doesn’t cultivate a culture antithetical to modern values like “don’t kill gay people,” “being rude isn’t a death sentence,” and “women should be able to do what they want,”  Muslims first have to acknowledge that faith is flexible enough to undergo reform. By acknowledging that flexibility, you account for the murderous bad eggs and the “good Muslims,” and you work to move the goal post towards the latter.

And, yes, the people who want to ban all Muslims or make Muslim garb illegal are also not helping. They are engaging in blind distrust that is just as harmfully authoritarian as the people denying that there’s an issue. They too just want to control people. But fighting them doesn’t mean refusing to acknowledge the obvious – “the obvious” being that the culture cultivated by Islam’s overwhelming influence on beliefs and ideas has lead to regressive, sometimes violent, practices. The utter clusterfuck that is Europe right now should be evidence enough that the culture clash is something that needs to be addressed.

And Muslims have totally co-opted all of these tragedies through some misplaced and ridiculously anti-introspective notion that terrorism committed in the name of Islam leaves them the true victims. The Muslims actively fighting for religious reform are porch monkeys, but the ones who do nothing to denounce Islamic terrorism besides regurgitating tired rhetoric about how true Islam is a religion of peace, and shaming people who question their tired rhetoric by ignoring valid criticism are the victims. If you are talking about the tragedy in Orlando or Paris or Brussels, in the same breath you have to treat Muslims who get weird looks sometimes like they’re victims on par with the people who were just killed by religious extremists in order to moral signal to your friends that you’re not “racist.”

It is ridiculous. Islam doesn’t get a pass for being a religion for brown people. If you’re going to base all of your criticisms of violent actions in ideas of cultural and religious impacts on behavior whenever white people are involved, you shouldn’t be shy to apply the same scrutiny to Muslim perpetrators.

 

Answering 31 Questions about Atheism

Hey there, guys! Here’s something a bit different. As have have stated a few times, I am an atheist. I like talking about atheism–I’m very open about it, mainly because there’s an idea floating around that women aren’t atheists or that there aren’t any racial minorities who are atheistic or that people in from lower class homes aren’t atheistic or that people from the South are all religious, so I like letting people know that my uber-specific demographic of black female poor people from the South is represented by at least one person.

Now many questions for atheists are framed in very obnoxious ways, but I found a list of thirty one questions here that at least seems genuinely interested in getting answers without any of the implied antagonism. So that’s great. I think it’s important that atheists, especially ones who actively support secularism like myself, take some time out to answer these questions. A lot of them are pretty stereotypical ones that atheists hear a good deal and have to reply to a good deal. But I’ve always been one to encourage people to ask whatever questions that they’re curious about. The fact that I’ve answered it many a time already has no bearing on the fact that they still don’t know and are still curious enough to ask, and it’s irrational to get mad at people for asking an understandable question just because it’s the one question that everyone asks and you have personally responded to it on other occasions before. (I’m looking at you, everyone who got pissed off at Piers Morgan over him asking the obvious question about transgender-ism.)

So let’s start! Strap in, it’s going to be a long one.


 

1.) How would you define atheism?

Atheism is the lack of belief in a god or gods, nothing more and nothing less.

2.) Do you act according to what you believe (there is no God) in or what you don’t believe in (lack belief in God)?

This question is a bit odd. I haven’t heard it before. For the record, atheism is not commensurate with saying “There is no God.” I understand how that can be really confusing, but atheism pertains to belief only. When it comes to knowing something, you get into agnosticism/gnosticism. That being said, I’m going to say that I act according to my lack of belief in any gods the same way I act according to my lack of belief in faeries: It’s just not a thing that factors into my behavior unless the specific situation calls for it to. My atheism may come into play during a funeral or while I’m debating for secularism, but my average ever day interactions and goings-on aren’t soaked through with my disbelief in God. I don’t think I do things “like an atheist,” whatever that would entail. 

3.) Do you think it is inconsistent for someone who “lacks belief” in God to work against God’s existence by attempting to show that God doesn’t exist?

This is a very oddly worded question, as it implies that God actually does exist and that I’m “working against” the guy knowingly. You might want to word that differently: As it stands now, it’s a loaded question. I’ll just reword it to “Why should an atheist care about religion when they don’t believe in it? Isn’t talking about something you don’t believe in a waste of your time?” That seems like the question.

And, no it is not inconsistent, in my opinion, simply because religion is a hugely influential part of almost every culture there is. It’s like asking a liberal why they bother talking about conservatives when they don’t agree. I think you’re wrong, which would be fine and not worth anything other than a lively discussion over drinks in of itself; but you’re wrong and trying to affect other things, and that’s where I draw the line. Many atheists “work against” God because that is the cultural force that atheists are up against. The way I typically explain it is by invoking Santa Claus. I don’t believe that Santa Claus exists, and I would leave it at that and be perfectly happy if the people who did believe in Santa Claus just kept it to themselves and didn’t try to enforce that on others. But if I lived in a country where most people constantly insisted that Santa was real and that his existence should affect our laws and the way we interact with each other as human beings, you can bet that I’d work against Santa Claus even though I didn’t think he existed. The fact that I don’t think he exists is the entire point of my opposition.

4.) How sure are you that your atheism properly represents reality?

Pretty sure. 

5.) How sure are you that your atheism is correct?

Once again, pretty sure.

6.) How would you define what truth is?

Ah, a philosophy question. I feel like I should point out that atheism only says anything about my lack of belief in god. Yes, there are other ideas that many atheists may share in addition to atheism because they overlap, but they are separate ideas. How I define truth may be how some other atheists define it, but it definitely won’t be how we all define it. That being said . . .

“Truth” is a really abstract thing that will hurt your brain if you read any philosophy about it. I personally define “truth” as “the concrete state of things independent of individual perception.” If a tree falls in the woods and no one was there to hear it, did it make a sound? Yes, because there are laws of physics that the natural world follows, and those laws would allow you to reasonably assume that two heavy things hitting each other in open air on the surface of the planet (in this case, the tree and the ground) will make a sound, because that’s what has been observed in the past and continually observed in the present. The sound it makes is the truth. It happened independent of perception and is not subject to personal bias of opinion. That’s what happened.

When human cognition and decision making is put into the mix it gets extremely more muddled, but even in those situations, there’s typically a “truth” in it somewhere. Let’s say John punches Bob in the face. John says he did it because Bob made him mad, but Bob says that he didn’t do anything that should have made John mad. The only truth that can be determine there, then, is that someone got punched in the face, but it’s still the objective fact of things.

7.) Why do you believe your atheism is a justifiable position to hold?

I believe it’s a justifiable position simply because the burden of proof is not on me. This is one of those questions where you’ll probably get the exact same answer from everyone you ask: Burden of proof. Atheism isn’t an assertion, it is a rejection of an assertion. You say that there is a god. I say I don’t believe you. Once again, atheism is not saying that there is not god–that’s an assertion. But I am not asserting anything: I’m saying I don’t believe what you have asserted and giving my reasons why. If you said that you could fly but you can only do it when no one’s looking when you take off and when you’re in the air you become invisible, would it not be reasonable for me to assume that you’re lying? When someone makes an assertion–especially an extraordinary assertion–they have to back it up. It’s not my job to prove that you can’t fly just because I don’t believe you. You’re the one who said you could fly in the first place, so it’s your job to prove that you can because I’m the one that needs convincing in that situation.

And since the burden of proof is on the person claiming that there is a god or gods, that burden of proof must be met before I believe the claim. And, in my opinion, there is nothing indicating that there is a god or gods. People always say that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, but that’s not the case. I don’t need extraordinary evidence to believe in a higher being, I just need something. I need some evidence, and there doesn’t appear to be any. Even if evidence for a god or gods was provided, that still wouldn’t be enough to prove the validity of any particular religion. At most it’d get me to be a deist, and my behavior would change in-so-much that I acknowledge that a god does indeed exist but that I don’t know what it wants from humanity, if anything, and have no reason to assume that it wants something if it hasn’t already made that desire apparent.

8.) Are you a materialist or a physicalist or what?

In all honesty, those kind of things aren’t something that interest me so I don’t have that much of an understanding of them and therefore don’t feel comfortable claiming that I’m either of them. The definition of physicalist seems pretty okay, though. The furthest I go into anything like that is claiming that I’m an existential nihilist, which has less to do with the properties of the physical world and more to do with the human perception of the physical world.

9.) Do you affirm or deny that atheism is a worldview?  Why or why not?

Atheism is a worldview only in relation to the worldviews that already exist. If no conception of god ever existed at any point–if there was no theism to be opposed to in the first place–than not believing in any gods wouldn’t mean anything. It’s an idea that doesn’t exist, so of course no one would hold it. But since the idea of god does exist and many people do hold it and many of them hold that idea to ideological extremes, I’d say that atheism is a worldview strictly because it offers opposition to theism, which is a worldview. My particular worldview leans toward the perspective of a secularist as opposed to something strictly atheistic, however.

10.) Not all atheists are antagonistic to Christianity but for those of you who are, why the antagonism?

I am antagonistic toward religions–not just Christianity, by the way–in the sense that I think they’re unnecessary and am open about that opinion. I try not to be overtly mean about it, though. I used to hate the more vitriolic “angry” atheists like Dawkins and the like, but I’ve grown to see the use for them. Some atheists are friendly and inviting despite thinking religion is wrong (how I try to be) and some atheists try to bitch slap people into reality, and we need both of those. Niceness doesn’t persuade everybody and neither does harshness, so if the two can coexist and work off of each other, why not?

If you want to be religious, that is perfectly fine. You have every right in the world to believe whatever the hell you want, no matter how wrong anyone else thinks it is. You have freedom of thought, and I would never try to make religion illegal or forcefully take it away from someone, or automatically think lesser of a person simply for ascribing to a religious faith and call them an idiot. That would be dumb. That being said, I think people willingly turning away from religion without any force or coercion is a good thing, and I’m glad that it’s happening more. I don’t want to say that I feel bad for religious people because that’s condescending and I don’t begrudge people things that make them happy, but I guess I’m just sad that religion is what makes people happy because it’s not needed–there are so many other things that offer the same perks of religion and can make people just as happy but don’t come with the baggage of intellectually dishonesty and other negative aspects that religion has.

So why the antagonism? Well, I grew up in the South and didn’t move until very recently, and the South is very fond of telling me that I deserve to be tortured forever for literally no other reason than not following a certain belief system. I know gay people who have been egregiously abused by religious leaders and their family members. The Vatican covers up terrible corruptions and perversions all because they have to look good for God. In high school I got in trouble because I didn’t want to say “under God” during the morning pledge of allegiance (which was creepy all by itself even before religion got put in it). It’s still illegal in some states for an atheist to run for office because we’re evil godless heathens. Someone trying to get sober can’t graduate AA until essentially becoming religious, no matter what they believed beforehand. People are still insisting that America is a Christian nation, which is most definitely is not now and was never intended to be. There are people teaching this to children not as a worldview option that’s available to them like all the other worldview options but as the Truth, so instead of letting kids be intellectually curious like they are by default, they shut that down before it even starts.

And I know that this isn’t all religious people. I know that. I know religion does plenty of great things, and I know it helps people and encourages them to do good things too. I know that plenty, most, of religious people are intelligent and kind human beings. But, from what I’ve seen of the world, religion is one of the only factors that can make a genuinely good person do bad, harmful things. And it’s not even necessary. Politics make good people do bad things too, but politics at least offer something that no other institution can. Religion cannot claim that. And that’s why atheists are so angry.   

11.) If you were at one time a believer in the Christian God, what caused you to deny his existence?

I was a Southern Baptist as a little girl, like most people I grew up around, because that’s how religion tends to work: You’re born in a place around people who believe things, so you believe them too. I was never overtly religious, though. My parents were Christians but not the church-y kind. We didn’t say a prayer before eating or anything like that. My grandmother was and still is very deeply religious on a personal level though she didn’t go to church, and I would talk to her about God and faith and strength of conviction and trials where God helped her through a lot. I always thought it was interesting subject, but I never really bought into it wholeheartedly. I remember asking once where God came from and getting the typical “God was always there” answer and thinking it was really lame, even as an eight-year-old.

I believe I stopped being a Christian when I was eleven or twelve–early middle school age. After that I was a deist for a while, still believing in god that cared about humans but not the Christian one. I was of the belief that the afterlife existed–pretty much heaven and hell–but that god didn’t care about what you believed, only that you were a good person, and you would be sent to heaven or hell accordingly. Then I learned about Greek/Roman mythology in my literature class and realized that our mythology now was their religion back then. And that seemed really sketchy, so I started to wonder how we could know what God wanted at all, so then I became a more traditional deist who believed in a creator but didn’t assume that the creator had any plans for humanity.

Then it eventually got to the point where I just owned up to being an atheist because that was what I was and what I had been for quite a while. I realized that I just liked the idea of a creator more than actually believing that there was one and wanted to be honest with myself. I never really felt bad about it. I was in the atheist closet until senior year of high school, though. I was aware of how weird and looked down upon atheism was to most of my classmates, and distinctly remember being in the atheist closet and having a really awkward conversation where a group of acquaintances decided to talk in depth about their respective religious practices and I was really uncomfortable and lied about being a Catholic because that was the first thing that popped into my head for some reason when they asked me what I was. So yeah, nothing bad happened or anything. The best way to describe it is that I grew out of it.

12.) Do you believe the world would be better off without religion?

Not really. I think religion is bad, don’t get me wrong. But I also know that people have a tendency to mess things up no matter what. So if religion never existed, we would just find something else to use as an excuse to do things that were quite the bad idea in retrospect. So I think the world would be just as bad/good as it is now, just for different reasons. I’m not going to ban religion now or anything, even though getting it out of politics (which is crazy enough on its own) would probably do wonders in regards to adding some level of rationality to political decisions. 

13.) Do you believe the world would be better off without Christianity?

Christianity specifically? Hmmm, I’m actually not quite sure. Can I broaden the question and say that I think the world would be better if none of the Abrahamic religions existed, Judaism and Islam along with Christianity? They’re all pretty much the same thing just different, so I’ll assume that if one of them didn’t exist the others wouldn’t either, at least not in quite the same way that they exist now.

I know I just said the world would probably turn out the same if no religion at all ever existed, but if we’re talking about specific ones and we assume that everything else would go on as normal, yeah it would probably be better, in my opinion. I’m just basing that on the fact that the Abrahamic religions were used as an excuse for quite a lot of bloodshed both in the past and currently. Even though a lot of those things probably would have happened anyway because religion was oftentimes just used as a flimsy excuse for doing bad things that power hunger leaders were going to do anyway, I’m going to assume that the ultimate body count wouldn’t be as bad if people weren’t under the delusional impression that they were fighting for God. Maybe if they just thought they were doing it for the Queen, it’d be a bit more okay in the end of the day. A bit. Maybe.

14.) Do you believe that faith in a God or gods is a mental disorder?

Faith in a god or gods can be used as a catalyst for mental disorders (schizophrenics thinking that God talks to them, paranoiacs who think the Rapture is nye, and the like). But faith itself is not a disorder and shouldn’t be classified as a disorder. Anyone who says that is an idiot. Faith in a creator is very much a natural human desire.

15.) Must God be known through the scientific method?

The scientific method isn’t the only way to go about creating theories and providing evidence, it’s just the widely agreed upon method that seems to take into account the most variables. 

16.) If you answered yes to the previous question, then how do you avoid a category mistake by requiring material evidence for an immaterial God?

This is a loaded question simply because there are plenty of things that are immaterial that we can still have evidence of and can still study using the scientific method. Introspection is a nice example–there is no quantifiable or material evidence of human introspection in cognition, but we can still study it and prove that it’s a thing that happens. We can have theoretical evidence (like the infinite Turing Machine) that doesn’t have to be physically proven as long as its internal logic is consistent. The issue with gods is that they are not internally consistent and that we cannot study it as a concept, immaterial or not. 

17.) Do we have any purpose as human beings?

Nope. I’m an existential nihilist, as previously stated. I do not think that anyone’s life has a plan. I don’t think that humanity has a purpose. And I don’t think “life,” in abstract terms, has any universal, objective meaning whatsoever. I find that to be an incredibly egoistical way of looking at things. Humans are like one collective hipster–we stroke our own ego and foster a sense of grand self importance despite everything indicating that we are in no way special.

We are one intelligent species living on the third rock from one star on one planet that just so happened to be able to foster life. We walk on top of the bones of creatures that lived for billions of years longer than our species has even existed, but that are now wiped off of the map–gone extinct like most of the life that has been on the planet. We’ve only just arrived on that time scale. There is an entire solar system around us, in an entire galaxy, in an entire universe. It is the most egoistical thing ever to think that we are important, to think that out of everything in existence we are the only things with a higher purpose because we’re just that great.

All that said, the relative insignificance of humans as a species in relation to the entire rest of the universe and known time has no bearing on people’s personal purpose. There’s no objective reason that we’re here, but so what? “The meaning of life is to give life meaning,” and all that. Individual people can find their own purpose in anything they choose and be truly happy. People live for their family and their friends, their jobs, their personal ideals. You don’t need any universal, objective purpose in order for life, here and now, to be meaningful to you. The universe doesn’t care, but the universe doesn’t care about anything. It’s no reason to be sad.

18.) If we do have purpose, can you as an atheist please explain how that purpose is determined?

I feel like I adequately explained how our purpose can be determined. Find stuff you enjoy and enjoy it. The end.

19.) Where does morality come from?

Years and years of interaction among members of a very social species of animals is where morality came from. Morality came from the same place as affection and respect and authority: a long time ago when human beings were still wearing the short pants they learned how to best go about things and built up cultural connotations around certain actions. Overlapping mouths grew to mean that you cared about someone’s well being and became a part of the universal human language as a sign of affection. Letting a skilled person lead the group and appreciating the benefits their leadership reaped and therefore treating them with honor eventually led to the ingrained concepts of respect and authority.

We gained the ability to read facial expressions, even microscopic changes, twitches in the eyelids and the corners of the mouth. We learned how to understand the universal motions, the body language that helped us interact with each other as a social species whose very survival as a race very much depended upon being a social species. With this understanding came human empathy, essentially the height of mental abilities for a social species, the one thing that allowed people to treat others as they would want to be treated, to do things not entirely based around self interest and individual survival as was the case with other species. That fostered the growth of bands and tribes and developed civilizations. And eventually we got smart enough and comfortable enough and safe enough to muse about things, to be introspective.

Morality comes from humanity’s status as a race of social animals that needed it to survive. Early humans depended upon the help and goodwill of those around them. As social creatures, we depend upon healthy and preferably affectionate interaction in order to be physically and mentally healthy (even now babies can still die if they’re not given affection–not just food and a safe place to sleep, but affection). Someone had to take care of the babies, someone had to protect the weak, someone had to share their food, someone had to help the sick or injured–because if someone didn’t do those things, humans wouldn’t have survived against other predators. Killing and maiming and leaving members of your already small band to die and driving people away from you by being surly and unpleasant didn’t help matters, and humans learned that fairly quickly. And just like inherently understanding facial expressions and kissing someone you like, it became a part of what we were as a species. 

20.) Are there moral absolutes?

This is an interesting question. It ties back in to the question about truth for me. I think, from an individual and perceptual standpoint, that there are no moral absolutes. Many aspects, if not most, of what is considered right and wrong has a lot to do with cultural values over anything else. Some places think cannibalism is okay, some places think it’s depraved. Some people think corporeal punishment is okay, some people don’t.

But I don’t think that human moral subjectivity negates the existence of certain moral absolutes either. It makes sense that both things would exist, relative to how humans perceive the world. A moral absolute can be considered something that objectively causes harm in reality despite the perceptions of those involved. A sociopath may think that it’s fun to rape an innocent person totally unprovoked, and that morality is perfectly subjective. But that doesn’t change the objective fact that someone was acted upon against their will and harmed against their will when the situation objectively did not call for harm to be done to them, with no objectively good things arising from the situation. You can then say that rape is objectively wrong simply because it is an objective harm done for nothing but subjective benefit.

So I guess my answer to the question is both yes and no.  

21.) If there are moral absolutes, could you list a few of them?

Most horrendous things done to undeserving and/or unwilling parties counts, I believe. Rape. Infanticide. Regular genocide. Confinement (work camps and the like) Torture. You get the gist. 

22.) Do you believe there is such a thing as evil?  If so, what is it?

I wouldn’t call it “evil” like some concrete, tangible thing that you can unleash from an ancient puzzle box that you found at an antique shop or something. It’s really just a vague concept of general badness that no one wants to deal with, much like how “good” is a concept of vague niceness that people like. I generally try my very best not to completely demonize people and just call them evil–I try to run under the assumption that people have reasons for their actions, even horrendous actions, and while those reasons do not justify those actions they offer a better explanation than just saying, “Well that guy was a bad seed.” Even sociopaths have the excuse of having a mental disorder. In that way, I think the good/evil dichotomy is just an incredibly oversimplified explanation of complex human behavior and motivation.

Dismissing someone as being evil, I think, is making light of what could have been a very introspective topic. To be a pretentious person who quotes things: “Is evil something you do, or is it something you are?” And I think that evil is very much something that you do. Actions can be evil, but it takes much more for a person to just be evil. What is evil then? My definition of evil would be “an action either purely maliciously motivated and/or futile and unjustified that causes intentional harm or damage to others or someone who engages in actions that can be described as evil frequently.” I don’t think there are very many people out there who fit the bill of being pure evil, but there are definitely actions that qualify. 

23.) If you believe that the God of the Old Testament is morally bad, by what standard do you judge that he is bad?

It should be noted that I don’t like God as a character. I don’t believe in God (or any gods, clearly) so therefore obviously don’t think God is actually doing bad stuff, but I strongly dislike the Christian God the same way I strongly dislike other fictional characters like Dolores Umbridge or Bella Swan.

I judge the God of the Bible (I say the Bible just because the New Testament isn’t all love and rainbows like people insist it is, Jesus or not) using my own moral standards and the typical moral standards of humanity and basic reasoning skills. If a human being acted like the God of the Bible, they would be considered a monster and God should not be exempt from that basic judgement just because might makes right.

He creates people knowing beforehand who will and will not end up going to Hell (He’s omnipotent and all-knowing, He is in the space between spaces, all that stuff) where he will then punish them for eternity for bad things he knew that they were going to do and yet did nothing to stop, which then opens of the can of worms about punishing people infinitely for finite crimes. Seems like a little bit much, to put it lightly. I’m pretty sure even Hitler has learned his lesson by now. He has committed genocide on more than one occasion, He gave the devil permission to ruin Lot’s life for a petty bet, he sent bears to maul children to death for calling a man bald, he had a man almost kill his own child just to prove how much he loved Him (that’s not creepy at all), he kicked Adam and Eve out of the Garden for doing something that he knew they were going to do and that they wouldn’t have been able to comprehend as wrong until after they did it because they had no concept of right and wrong beforehand, after pretty much setting it up perfectly for that to happen (seriously, if you didn’t want them to eat the fruit you didn’t have to put it there, why would you do that?). The concept of original sin is essentially punishing the child for the crimes of the parents, just taken up to the nth degree, which is terrible in of itself.

There’s lots of stuff that makes God quite the unpleasant guy. Personally, I would have done things much differently if I actually loved my creations and wanted to be seen as benevolent. My morality is better than your God’s. And if you wouldn’t murder you own child just because someone told you to and/or you wouldn’t be the one to ask someone to murder their child to prove their love for you, your morality is superior to His as well. The Greeks had it right: any gods that existed were petty and volatile and foolish and certainly didn’t care about humans, much less have their well being in mind. And Prometheus had the whole “sacrifice myself form humanity” down way better than Jesus ever did.

24.) What would it take for you to believe in God?

To believe in the Christian God it would take nothing short of God or Jesus showing up and saying, “Hey! Christianity is the one true religion, guys! Peace!”

To believe in just god, though, some kind of evidence would be nice. Evidence that a developed disembodied cognitive force capable of manipulating the cosmos can exist. Evidence that miracles can actually happen. Video footage of divine stuff happening. Just tested, confirmed evidence is all I need.

25.) What would constitute sufficient evidence for God’s existence?

See above.

26.) Must this evidence be rationally based, archaeological, testable in a lab, etc., or what?

Evidence for any gods, like evidence of anything else must be rationally based, yes. People having unquantifialble personal experiences doesn’t count, just like people who say that they got abducted and probed by aliens doesn’t prove that aliens have visited earth. First and foremost, the evidence has to be falsifiable. I know that sounds odd when I type it out, but evidence is evidence because it has the capacity to be proven wrong if any more knowledge is made available. Claims of God can’t be proven wrong–they’re kind of just there and have to be taken at face value, like the person who says they can fly but it can’t be observed or tested or documented or proven in any way. Just take their word for it. Even supernatural things can be tested, they just have to be given different determined standards and scales (ghost hunters, anyone? No I don’t believe in ghosts, it’s just an example.). God can’t be tested at all, though.

27.) Do you think that a society that is run by Christians or atheists would be safer?  Why?

I couldn’t care less about a society being run by Christians or atheists or Muslims or Jews–I would like a society to be run by reasonable human beings. You can be a reasonable human being and be religious. You can be a reasonable human being and be an atheist. But just be reasonable. That being said though, America is full of crime and violence and is also very Christian, whereas Sweden is one of the happiest places on earth and also one of the safest as far as crime rates go and is also very, very nonreligious. Make of that what you will. 

28.) Do you believe in free will?  (free will being the ability to make choices without coersion).

I am firmly of the opinion that free will (and the possible nonexistence thereof) doesn’t matter that much, so I haven’t given it much thought. If free will exists, people will do what they do. If free will doesn’t exist, people will still do what they do. Either I’m typing up this blog because I want to or I was just destined to do it based off of brain chemistry and how my life has been, but either way I’m still sitting here writing a blog and having a grand old time. It seems pretty irrelevant as to whether free will had a hand it that or not.

29.) If you believe in free will, do you see any problem with defending the idea that the physical brain, which is limited and subject to the neuro-chemical laws of the brain, can still produce free will choices?

I answered that.

30.) If you affirm evolution and that the universe will continue to expand forever, then do you think it is probable that given enough time, brains would evolve to the point of exceeding mere physical limitations and become free of the physical and temporal and thereby become “deity” and not be restricted by space and time?  If not, why not?

I actually study cognitive science for a living, so this is very interesting. I’m not going to say that it’s not possible (all things are technically possible), but I highly doubt that. Highly doubt it. A very interesting thing to note is that the human brain has actually almost stopped evolving already just because we live in a society where evolutionary changes aren’t specifically selected for anymore because we don’t need the best of everything to survive with all of our modern commodities. The brain is a physical, biological machine that needs a physical and biological form to function and its incredibly complex. We can’t download someone’s brain into a computer because of its complexity. This idea would happen to computers before it ever happened to a human being. At best, you could say that our perceptual abilities would expand to more god-like proportions (maybe we’d be able to willing enter into an out of body experience), but they would still need the “home base” of a physical brain to do all of the actual perceiving. It’s a cool sci-fi idea, but probably not something that will happen in the next billion years.   

31.) If you answered the previous question in the affirmative, then aren’t you saying that it is probable that some sort of God exists?

I answered no, but even if I answered yes the existence of a god would be vastly improbable. Like I said, it is possible that a god of some kind exists (just extremely improbable) and that’s why I’m technically an agnostic atheist. Even so, the above theory depends upon the notion that in order for a god to exist it must have first had a physical form that evolved over billions and billions of years until it reached omnipotence. That then creates the circular logic of what created that first physical being and what created that creator and so on and so forth–the “who made God?” argument. It relies on strictly natural processes in order to explain the supernatural, and it falls flat for that reason. It then goes on to assume that this disembodied consciousness would not only have power in the physical world but the ability to bend the laws of the universe outside of its mere existence, which seems unlikely. A mind cannot create physical things, only envision them, and that mind having the ability to internally warp the logic of space doesn’t mean it would externally be able to do the same. We managed to split the atom–essentially the physics equivalent of surpassing a physical form–but the affect was still well within the laws of the physical universe that have already been observed and recorded. There’s no reason to assume supernatural qualities. 


And there you are. I leave you now.