March 30, 2013

Why I Love Zombie Jesus Weekend

Zombie Jesus
Zombie Jesus (Photo credit: thivierr)
I have made no secret of my love for Zombie Jesus Weekend and my belief that it should be an atheist holiday. Judging by the number of zombie parades, parties, and the like, many atheists feel the same way. I'm sure some of the fun has to do with the broader love of zombies, but I'd like to think that Zombie Jesus Weekend also provides a perfect excuse to celebrate our escape from the clutches of faith. That is what makes the holiday so perfect: it is an ideal blend of silly fun, an excuse to acknowledge how absurd the whole Jesus-returning-from-the-dead thing really is, and an opportunity to reflect on our personal journeys to atheism.

The image of a decayed Jesus corpse emerging from a tomb to munch on the brains of believers really is a great metaphor in many respects. You've got the fun observation that if Jesus really did come back from the dead, this would make him a zombie. You've got the munching of brains as saying something about how Christianity (and faith in general) afflicts the mind. You have the spread of the zombie virus from person-to-person and the similarities it bears to the viral nature of religious belief. You have the highly resourceful nature of the holdouts - small groups of uninfected survivors banding together to oppose the infected hordes. You get the idea.

Some will protest that celebrating Zombie Jesus Weekend amounts to little more than mockery of the Christian faith. It certainly does have that aspect to it, but I do not think it has to be so limited. And besides, there may be some value to poking fun of absurd beliefs from time to time.

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March 29, 2013

Atheist Alliance International President Explains His Apology

English: A (not yet) regularly used symbol for...
English: A (not yet) regularly used symbol for "atheism". It resembles (but only a little) the anarchist symbol or the "at" @. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
For those of you following the recent controversy in which complaints from Rebecca Watson and Ophelia Benson about my post on harassment prompted a public apology for tweeting a link to it from Carlos A. Diaz, President of Atheist Alliance International, Mr. Diaz has responded in the form of a comment. I wanted to bring this to your attention because I really appreciate him taking the time to respond, and I found his response informative. I know many of you wanted to hear from him, and now you can. You can find Mr. Diaz's comment here.

The most important part of his comment, at least for me, was his explanation about why he felt I had "trivialised harassment of women in the atheist community." As you will see from his comment, he took issue with the section of my post labeled "Behavior that is Clearly NOT Harassment." He indicated that some of what his organization considers harassment was identified in my post as not being harassment. That is certainly a fair point. My post focused on legal definitions of harassment; his organization appears to use a different sort of definition. He pointed to items #3 (wearing clothing with social or political messages at conferences) and #5 (inserting oneself into someone else's conversations and making absurd accusations against them) as examples. He seems to consider these to be legitimate examples of harassment while I noted that they do not seem consistent with the common components of various legal definitions.

March 28, 2013

An Atheist in Awe

English: Loch Awe from the A85.
English: Loch Awe from the A85. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Staks Rosch (Dangerous Talk) recently posted about one of the most puzzling misunderstandings some religious believers seem to have about atheists: that we do not experience every bit as much awe and wonder in our surroundings as they do. My experience has been similar to his in that I have actually found that my feelings of awe and wonder of the universe increased since I set aside god-belief. Instead of telling myself that the beauty of nature is the work of some sort of god, I am free to consider the science behind it. And while I do not assume this will be true for every atheist, I certainly feel closer to nature and in greater awe of beauty than I ever did as a believer.

March 27, 2013

My Reaction to the Atheist Alliance International's Apology

Misunderstood
Misunderstood (Photo credit: Howard Dickins)
It was just brought to my attention that the president of Atheist Alliance International (AAI) issued a public apology for linking to my recent post on harassment. I have been asked by a few readers for my reaction to this news, so I offer it now.

I was surprised to see the AAI claim that what I wrote "trivialised harassment of women in the atheist community." I do not believe that my post said anything specific to to women. I recognize that harassment can and does occur between women, between men, and in both directions between women and men. Moreover, I most certainly did not attempt to trivialize anything in this post. To the contrary, I think that harassment is a serious issue and that we should exercise some caution and good judgment in labeling behavior as "harassment" when it may fall short of the definition.

In my post, I attempted to find common themes which appeared in legal definitions of harassment and explore their implications for the accusations of harassment I see today in the atheist community. I noted that many of the behaviors commonly characterized as harassment in our community fall short of what appear to be the central components of many legal definitions. I also noted that some of the behavior occurring in our community clearly does appear to meet these legal standards.

I'm not quite sure what the AAI found so objectionable about the contents of this post. When I read the statement of apology and re-read what I had written, I do not see an accurate characterization. I did not and do not condone harassment, defend harassment, or think we should be accepting of harassment. I believe I have been quite clear on these points.

Nevertheless, I recognize that the AAI is a large organization with a diverse membership to whom they must be accountable. If they received several complaints about promoting my post, it makes sense that they would remove the links and apologize. I do not fault them for doing so.

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March 26, 2013

Clergy Abuse in Australia

English: Orthographic map of Australia centere...
English: Orthographic map of Australia centered at 26.75° S, 133.25° E. Official territory. Claimed territories. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Child sexual abuse is a real tragedy, especially when it is committed by adults in positions of trust. When the abuse is perpetrated by a member of clergy who is subsequently shielded by a religious organization, the tragic nature of the abuse is magnified considerably. Thus, it is encouraging to see examples of people willing to stand up to powerful religious organizations and demand justice.

I'd like to introduce you to lewisblayse.net, a blog by Lewis Blayse about the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in Australia. Lewis reports that he survived victimization in church-ran children's homes, and is bringing this perspective to bear as he provides commentary about the investigation into similar crimes.

I am sorry to learn about what Lewis endured as a child; however, I am grateful that people like him are standing up to religious organizations and shining a light on their crimes. Perhaps such efforts will make future victimization a bit less likely.

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Understanding Harassment

Anti-Sexual Harassment Graffiti reading: No To...
Anti-Sexual Harassment Graffiti reading: No Touching allowed: Castration Awaits You (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The word "harassment" is being thrown around quite a bit these days in the online atheist community. I find this troubling for two reasons. First, accusations of harassment are highly inflammatory and typically lead to an abrupt end to any discussion in which they occur, followed by increased polarization by the parties involved in the discussion. When the accusations were truly warranted, this may be unavoidable; however, unwarranted accusations seem to be surprisingly common and can do real harm. Second, harassment has legal implications in that it is defined as a criminal offense in most jurisdictions. Because of this, we should exercise caution about using the term to describe all behavior we do not like and reserve it for the occasions where it is clearly appropriate (i.e., real harassment).

In this post, I will examine legal definitions of harassment, highlight the key components which appear to distinguish harassment from other objectionable behaviors, and begin to explore some of the most common accusations of harassment in the online atheist community to see what should be labeled as harassment and what should probably not.

March 25, 2013

Introducing Smart Apparel

I agreed to post the following from Smart Apparel without compensation. This is not something I do routinely, but I was happy to see another small business marketing products for the secular community, and I wanted to give them a boost.

With atheism on the rise, it is making it easier for closet atheist to come out and be heard, and Smart Apparel is doing what we can to ensure that this movement continues to grow by creating a wide variety of shirts that promote a smarter world. Some of our atheist shirts are very subtle in promoting skepticism and reason while others will expose you for the godless heathen that you are.

But we don’t just create shirts about atheism and skepticism; many of our products focus on philosophy, politics, and of course science. We have one of the most popular science shirts on the web called Recycled Stardust along with a new line called Family of Retro Scientists which currently feature Carl Sagan, Bill Nye, and Neil deGrasse Tyson.


Not only are we promoting a smarter world with our tee shirts, we often post interesting and mind boggling statistics about the universe on our Facebook page. For example, did you know that if you were to count to a trillion counting one number per second, it would take you 31,000 years to finish counting!

Join Smart Apparel in promoting a smarter world and check us out on Facebook and Twitter.

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Blog Tips: Paying Taxes on Your Blogging Income

Logo of the Internal Revenue Service
Logo of the Internal Revenue Service (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I don't know about you, but when I first started this blog, making money at it was not something I had even considered. I had no ads, and I was writing for myself with the idea that whoever wanted to read it would be welcome to do so but would not be part of why I was writing. After some time, I began to experiment with ads (mostly Google Adsense) because I figured that it would be nice to earn enough to cover my expenses. Initially, these expenses were minimal and consisted mostly of things like my domain registration fee and little else. That was fine because I was not even coming close to earning enough money to cover them.

Fast forward to a few years later. My expenses grew to include things like software, advertising, and various fees. I realized that there were things I needed to be a more effective blogger, and few of them were free. Fortunately, my ad revenue had increased along with my expenses. For the first time ever, I was able to cover my basic expenses. I was no longer losing money in order to write this blog.

My expenses have continued to grow, but my ad revenue has grown at an even greater rate. The result is that for the past few years, I have found myself in the position of earning a small profit from this blog. Since I have been reading up on taxes lately to make sure I understand how blogging income is taxed in the U.S. and some of the options we bloggers have, I figured it would be appropriate to share with you what I have learned so far.

March 24, 2013

Dudebro

English: First reconstruction of Neanderthal m...
English: First reconstruction of Neanderthal man Espa├▒ol: Primera reconstrucci├│n del Hombre de Neandertal (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I saw a couple of people on Twitter recently using a term with which I was unfamiliar: dudebro. It seemed like it was being used as some sort of insult, but I was not sure. Since I was not familiar with the term, I asked about what it meant on Twitter. @16bitheretic, the author of Room Full of Crazy, informed me that "dudebro" began on gaming sites as a pejorative reference to men who play games like Call of Duty or Madden, drink beer, and engage in various pursuits associated with traditional masculinity. The term was initially used as a way of criticizing one's taste in video games.

As it was adopted by other groups outside the gaming community, "dudebro" evolved into what some describe as a gendered slur akin to characterizing men as Neanderthals. I found this fascinating and am grateful to @16bitheretic for the information. The next time I see the term being used online, I will have some idea what it means.

March 21, 2013

Keep the Faith, Lose the Religion?

Icon-religion
Icon-religion (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I was talking to a religious friend recently who brought up a point I hadn't fully considered. She was explaining why she no longer attended church (the primary reason was the blatant hypocrisy so often on display from the clergy). I asked whether she still considered herself to be a member of the particular Christian denomination with which I know she used to identify. She replied that she did so but that she would be unlikely to attend church again.

She went on to say something I found quite interesting.
I'd like to keep the religion but lose the church. I have faith, and I am still a Christian. I just think the church structure and clergy may need to be something I let go.

March 20, 2013

Yes, We Do Make the Choice to Use the Internet

Example forum view, from PhpBB.
Example forum view, from PhpBB. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
There was one comment left on my post about taking responsibility for our feelings while I was away that I wanted to address in some detail. This comment seemed to take issue with my suggestion that someone who routinely feels outraged when they spend time online might benefit from spending less time online.

I thought this was an obvious thing to suggest, but I stand corrected. It appears that it was not nearly as obvious as I thought.
Frankly, I find your "we are making the choice to do so" argument re: the internet to be extremely disingenuous. One might argue that people reading newspapers in the 1960s were "choosing" to do so as well. Heck, they even had to go outside to pick the paper up! The internet is the medium of communication now. It's real life. It's not a fairyland where people happen to wander into unicorns.
What I wrote certainly was not intended to be disingenuous. Yes, someone in the 1960s who read newspapers was in fact choosing to do so. Someone in the 1980s who watched television was choosing to do so. And today, someone who spends time on the Internet is choosing to do so. While these statements are true, none of them gets at what I was suggesting in the post. So here's yet another stab at it.

March 19, 2013

I'm Back and Picking Up Where I Left Off

just when I thought I was outI'm back now, albeit somewhat reluctantly. I am lousy about taking breaks when I need them. I needed this one for other reasons, but I also hoped that having some time away would be good for adjusting my perspective a bit. I'm not yet sure if anything of the sort happened. I guess we'll see. What I will say is that this is the first time I can recall where I have taken a deliberate break from this blog and found myself unable to stop thinking about the sort of content about which I write. I suppose it shows me I still give a damn, and maybe that realization is worth something.

This should not imply that I thought about atheism and related content all of the time. I didn't. But neither did I manage to clear my mind like I wanted. The new Pope and the wall-to-wall media coverage got in my way, as did the breaking news that Mississippi's conservative legislature and governor have passed a measure promoting prayer in school. The fact that everyone I encounter here in Mississippi seems to want to talk about their Christian beliefs did not help either. But honestly, I can't blame my inability to get away on any of that. I find this stuff too interesting to keep my distance for long.

I found that one particular subject kept returning to my thoughts: how great it would be to have a somewhat more unified atheist community - or at least one without so much bickering over things that seem somewhat trivial once one gets some distance from them. Try as I might, I couldn't escape the conclusion that I really don't have any answers regarding to how to bring that about. I've realized that I am guided by little more than a vague sense that it is better to keep talking about our differences with the goal of resolution and/or tolerance than it is to demonize one another and form opposing factions.

Perhaps the atheist community is dying or already dead, and we will instead have many atheist communities with different priorities. That does not seem so bad, especially if it would bring an end to the personal attacks. Of course, it would also be nice if the various factions could co-operate effectively and not regard the others as enemies.

March 14, 2013

Guilt By Association

Guilt by Association Vol. 1
Guilt by Association Vol. 1 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I'm not back yet, but I have a few unexpected minutes at a computer so I wanted to share a quick thought that occurred to me before I started this break.

Hypothetical scenario time. Suppose you discover an atheist blog with which you are previously unfamiliar. It is not brand new, but it is new to you. The title suggests that you may have some interest in the subject matter and the perspective of the author. Perhaps this is a blog you should add to your blogroll, RSS aggregator, or whatever other method you use to read blogs you like. But then you notice something that gives you pause. The blogroll of this particular blog is filled with links to PZ Myers, Richard Carrier, Ophelia Benson, and even Greg Laden. What do you do? Do you go ahead and link to this blog anyway, or do you pass? Is this a matter of guilt by association, or is it something else?

Suppose you decide to go ahead and link to the blog in question. You tell yourself that it is their content you are interested in and not the content of these others bloggers. But since they are linking to these other bloggers, does it seem almost as if you are driving traffic to these other bloggers? If so, does that present a problem?

Alternatively, suppose you decide to pass on linking to this blog. Is this fair? By refusing to link to them because of who they link to, are you engaging in guilt by association? And if so, is what you are doing really that different from Melody Hensley preemptively blocking anyone who follows @ElevatorGATE on Twitter?

If guilt by association is bad when "they" do it, isn't it still bad when "we" do it? What do you think?

Update: The @ElevatorGATE account has been banned by Twitter since this post was written.

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March 8, 2013

Taking a Short Break From Blogging

I will be taking a break from posting here for the next week or two. I have several things that require my attention offline, some of which will keep me away from a computer for a bit. While unavoidable, this break comes at a good time for me because I think it might do me some good to have some time to clear my head and step away from thinking about this stuff so often.

I will return, but I thought I should give you a heads-up so you won't wonder what happened when things get quiet around here for awhile.

March 6, 2013

Taking Responsibility For Our Feelings

no one can hurt your feelings
I dropped a bit of a bomb in my recent post on hurt feelings on the Internet when I wrote, "I am not saying this to be mean, but I am not responsible for how another adult feels." Because some will find this important truth to be counter-intuitive, it deserves elaboration. After explaining what I mean, I'd like to address a couple of the more common objections and then take a brief look at some of the implications this has for how we interact with one another in the online atheist community.

Who is Responsible For How You Feel?

You and you alone are responsible for how you feel. Nobody else can make you feel sad, angry, upset, or anything else without your agreement. I know we sometimes talk as if other people cause our feelings, but this is misleading.

If you insult me, I may experience feelings of sadness. My feelings are based on my understanding of our interaction and are guided by the whole of my personality and life experience. If I care what you think of me, I may feel sad; if I do not, I may not feel much of anything. It is not your insult that leads to my feelings; it is my interpretation of your insult, the meaning I assign to it, and the manner in which I put it in context. That is, how I feel following your insult is far more about me than it is about you.

March 5, 2013

Problems With Jesus: The Character of the Christian God

Jesus Christ figure in London.
Jesus Christ figure in London. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Aside from some of the questionable moral teachings allegedly delivered by the Jesus figure as described in the Christian bible, I have a few problems with the assumption that such a figure existed in the first place. Fortunately, my worldview does not hinge on whether or not someone like the biblical Jesus ever existed. As a result, I am able to take a step back and look at the matter without having a great deal of emotional attachment to either possibility.

The first of my concerns with the possibility of a historical Jesus deals with the character of the Christian god, as described throughout the Old Testament of the Christian bible. In brief, sending Jesus to die for our sins has always struck me as the last thing the evil sort of god described in the Old Testament would do.

March 4, 2013

Makers: Women Who Make America

First Lady Betty Ford sports a button expressi...
First Lady Betty Ford sports a button expressing her support for ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment while taking some personal time as President Ford plays in the Jackie Gleason Inverrary Classic Celebrities Golf Tournament, Hollywood, Florida. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I caught the new documentary Makers: Women Who Make America on PBS a few days ago. It was very well done, and I do not hesitate to recommend it. Makers provided an informative look at the women's movement in the U.S. I suspect those of you interested in feminism, social change movements, and/or U.S. history would really enjoy it. If you missed it, it looks like the entire documentary is available for viewing on the Makers.com website.

One of the things that struck me while watching it and which I often forget was what a short a time frame we are talking about. The first edition of The Feminine Mystique was published before I was born, but most of the women's movement occurred within my lifetime. And their successes during the 1960s and 1970s were truly astounding. One of the great things about Makers was that it reminds us of all the obstacles women faced at the beginning of the movement and highlights what the movement was able to accomplish.

March 3, 2013

Problems With Jesus: Morality and Family Values

Cover of "The Portable Atheist: Essential...
Cover via Amazon
One of the most common claims I have heard from Christians on the subject of morality is that the god described in the Old Testament of their bible is a very different sort of god than the figure of Jesus as described in the New Testament. This claim is typically made in response to my questions about the mass murder and other atrocities in which the Old Testament god appears to delight. Perhaps they are right. Maybe Jesus abolished the entire Old Testament. But this possibility seems highly controversial even among Christians. After all, many seem quite eager to claim that some of Leviticus is still relevant.

Even if we decided to ignore the entire Old Testament and focus only on Jesus, we find some serious problems with the sort of morality he allegedly promoted. In her brilliant essay, "If God is Dead, Is Everything Permitted?" (which can be found in in The Portable Atheist: Essential Readings for the Nonbeliever), Elizabeth Anderson wrote:
Jesus tells us his mission is to make family members hate one another, so that they shall love him more than their kin (Matt. 10:35-37). He promises salvation to those who abandon their wives and children for him (Matt. 19:29, Mark 10:29-30, Luke 18-29-30). Disciples must hate their parents, siblings, wives, and children (Luke 14:26). The rod is not enough for children who curse their parents; they must be killed (Matt. 15:4-7, Mark 7:9-10, following Lev. 20:9). These are Jesus's "family values."
This Jesus-figure does not sound all that different from the Old Testament god, does he? Undoubtedly, one can find some positive moral messages in the Christian bible. However, one must be willing to ignore quite a bit to argue that Jesus was any sort of moral exemplar.

This is important because it undercuts much of what Christians - even liberal Christians - want us to believe about the Jesus figure. Even if we are willing to set aside concerns about whether any such person ever lived, we end up finding someone who was far from perfect, godly, or even a model of sound moral teaching.

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March 2, 2013

Hurt Feelings on the Internet

The IMP Log: The Very First Message Sent on th...
The IMP Log: The Very First Message Sent on the Internet (Photo credit: FastLizard4)
On a scale from 0 ("not at all") to 100 ("extremely"), how concerned are you about whether you hurt someone's feelings on the Internet? Take a moment and think about it. Consider how you generally behave online and ask yourself how often you find yourself holding back so as not to hurt someone's feelings.

Time for me to confess something. I think I'd be about a 20 on this scale. It is not that I am indifferent to the feelings of others. There are times when I attempt to word something in a gentler manner, but they are infrequent. I rarely hold back unless I think I might be interacting with a child. At the same time, I generally avoid name-calling and so-called profane language in my writing because I do not think they add anything of value. So while I avoid these things, I do not do so because I am worried about offending someone. All in all, I think I'd have to say that I'm not particularly concerned with hurting someone's feelings on the Internet. I do not go out of my way to do so, but I also do not expend much effort trying to avoid doing so.

March 1, 2013

The Importance of Self-Awareness

(You discover directly) that your own immediat...
(You discover directly) that your own immediate self-awareness is just this (and nothing else), and that it has an inherent self-clarity, which is entirely un-fabricated. (Photo credit: Wonderlane)
Is the ability to examine oneself accurately (i.e., self-awareness) part of reason, critical thinking, skepticism, or freethought? It seems to me that encouraging one another to think critically about others and examine the merits of others' arguments may not be worth much unless we are willing to do the same with ourselves. In this way, self-awareness could be thought of as a component of reason.

Back in December, I wrote a post called "Atheism and Nonconformity" in which I mentioned an experience I had in a local atheist group listening to a woman complain about her life without realizing that her behavior was almost certainly a contributing factor to many of the things about which she was complaining. I wrote:
It was not terribly long ago that I was listening to a particular atheist woman with blue hair, tattoos, and piercings share how difficult it was for her to maintain friendships here in the South because her friends typically ended the relationship once they learned of her atheism… But over a few interactions, I noticed that she was loud, domineering, self-centered, and rather rude in conversations with others… In any case, I found myself not wanting to have anything to do with her, and I am fairly confident that it was not because of her atheism.
This particular woman stopped attending the group, and it was clear that everyone else had experienced similarly negative reactions to her. She was abrasive, unpleasant to be around, and generally off-putting. Everyone was nice to her, but nobody has missed her. I had nearly forgotten about her, but I've since learned that she's been trashing the group and various people in the group on Facebook, claiming she is going to start an alternative group, etc.

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