October 29, 2014

Why I Am So Fond of Halloween

Costumers in bar, Halloween in New Orleans. Jesus!
Costumers in bar, Halloween in New Orleans. Jesus! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
October has been my favorite month for as long as I can remember, and I always look forward to Halloween even though I haven't really celebrated it since college. I recognize that the appeal of Halloween for me today comes mostly from a combination of nostalgia, the long awaited change in the Mississippi heat, and the many horror films one can find on TV. The terror some Christians experience in response to Halloween is just an added perk.

What I most remember about Halloween from my childhood is the palpable sense of excitement that was always in the air. Sure, some of this happened around Christmas too but nothing to the extent of Halloween. First, there was the planning that went into one's costume. What will I be this year? What are my friends planning to dress as? These seemed like such important decisions at the time.

Next, there was the anticipation building up to the day itself. In elementary school, we'd be permitted to wear our costumes to school on Halloween or the last school day before Halloween. Our teachers would be in costume, and the school would be decorated so much that the whole thing felt more like a carnival than school. Granted, this didn't last long, but it was sure fun while it did. I don't think anybody learned much of anything that day, but we all needed a break from the grind.

October 28, 2014

Outrage Culture: When You're the Target

Grant's last outrage in LouisianaIf you contribute online atheist-oriented content in the form of blog posts, podcasts, YouTube videos, or social media posts, you will likely be the target of outrage culture sooner or later. If you think you'll be immune because you do not have enough traffic or status to be a worthwhile target, think again. All it takes is someone who is deemed a worthwhile target sharing your content to get the attention of those who would seek to punish you.

So what should you do when it is your turn to be the target of the perpetually outraged? There is unlikely to be a one-size-fits-all approach, but I'll offer some suggestions that I've found helpful. But first, I'd like to explain what to avoid.

What Not To Do

One of the effects of our outrage culture is that greater levels of outrage seem to be needed over time as the audience begins to habituate to the near constant presence of outrage. Our recognition of this, when combined with some basic knowledge of psychology, will show us what to avoid.

Imagine that you suddenly find yourself on the receiving end of a torrent of outrage. You decide to ignore it. You're not going to respond because it is ridiculous. Good for you! You are doing the right thing here. But the outrage builds. It doesn't fade away like you thought it would and seems to keep growing. You get nervous and begin to question your choice to ignore it. And then, you give in. As the outrage increases, you give in and apologize, take the post down, or whatever else. The outraged declare victory.

October 26, 2014

Ouija Boards and the Demonic

Original ouija board
Original ouija board (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Have you seen the previews for the new horror movie that just opened called Ouija? It looks quite silly, but the previews were enough to bring back memories of something I'd long forgotten: the sheer terror with which some evangelical fundamentalist Christians regard the Ouija board. And with Jesus Ween right around the corner, I thought this would be an appropriate time to share some thoughts on this subject.

Before the age of 14, I'd never heard of Ouija boards. That would change when a friend showed up to a party with one. I believe his goal was to see if he could freak anyone out with it, and he certainly succeeded. But everyone present that night was freaked out in a fun way. Nobody was upset; fun was had by all.

I was already something of a skeptic at this point in my life, and I certainly did not believe that we were actually communicating with "spirits" or anything of the sort. But I seemed to be in the minority here. Most of the others who either participated or observed took the idea of disembodied beings communicating with us at least somewhat seriously. Some really seemed to believe it wholeheartedly; others were probably just going along out of curiosity. I suppose the poor "souls" with whom we were communicating had little to do besides creep out drunk kids while they awaited their final destination.

October 25, 2014

Mormons: Our Underwear is Not Magic

English: Temple garments, underwear worn by me...
Temple garments, underwear worn by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS; Mormons). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
According to Kate Seamons' recent article for Newser, the LDS Church recently put out a video to clear up misconceptions about their infamous "temple garment." What they want to address, specifically, is the suggestion that there is something "magic" about these garments.

Good for them! For entirely too long, they have attempted to cloak much of their temple ceremony in secrecy, fueling all sorts of rumors and wild speculation about what happens there. More transparency probably would help their image considerably. It is baffling that it took them as long as it did to comment on something as widely discussed as their underwear. I have to think this is a good move on their part.

Not magic underwear. Got it. And yet, the title of the video is "Sacred Temple Clothing." So, "sacred" but not "magic." What's the difference? We're told that "sacred" is about one's connection to gods, and I suppose this wouldn't be true all varieties of magic. It does not seem like a terribly clear distinction, but I suppose we'll have to take it since it is all we're likely to get.



In the video, we learn that "magic underwear" is "offensive" and that "church members ask for the same degree of respect and sensitivity that would be afforded to any other faith by people of good will." I'm not sure why any degree of respect should be afforded to any set of beliefs that has not sufficiently demonstrated its veracity and value. I'll gladly extend respect to people who believe strange things and to their right to believe strange things; however, I stop short of respecting the strange things they believe merely because someone labels them as faith.

I'm also quite wary of the notion that any of us should change the content of our speech simply because someone decides to claim offense. That seems like a recipe for silencing dissent and criticism. Then again, "sacred" garments do not strike me as any less absurd as "magic underwear," so maybe the terminology is irrelevant.

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October 24, 2014

Some of the Atheists Who Mock Christians Believe in Ghosts

This image was selected as a picture of the we...
This image was selected as a picture of the week on the Malay Wikipedia for the 29th week, 2010. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I have encountered quite a few Christians during the course of my life who report that they believe in angels. This isn't exactly a shocker, is it? The existence of angels is part of mainstream Christian dogma. Even Pope Francis recently weighed in on the subject of angels, reaffirming his belief in their existence.

Many atheists are fond of mocking Christians for their belief in angels, and I can't say I blame them. The existence of angels seems every bit as absurd as the existence of gods. But there's at least one problem with mocking Christians for believing in angels: some of the atheists doing this share another silly belief with the Christians they are mocking: ghosts.

An atheist is someone who does not believe in gods, and this leaves atheists free to believe in all sorts of other supernatural nonsense, including souls, ghosts, haunted houses, and other things we tend to hear about during the month of October. I suspect that the majority of atheists do not believe in these things, but some certainly do. There is nothing inherent in atheism that precludes such beliefs.

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