April 10, 2020

Good Friday Fasting Unlikely to End COVID-19 Pandemic

Easter Good Friday

One of the most common experiences I have as an atheist (and especially as an atheist living in Mississippi) is that "what the fuck" moment when I am hit upside the head with the disturbing reality that most of my neighbors still believe religious nonsense. Here's a timely example from Religion News Service: Christians across traditions call for a Good Friday fast in response to pandemic. The article tries to make this into a positive by highlighting an image of Christians from many different denominations, as well as some Jews and Mormons (who may or may not be Christians depending on who you ask), joining with Catholics to fast today. Fair enough. I suppose we could consider it positive that some Christians and Jews are setting aside their differences for a day.

I struggle to get past the title of the article, though. How is fasting and/or the prayer that inevitably accompanies it a response to anything? People, it is 2020. Can we still not get past believing in magic? Can these people seriously believe that groveling before the same entity who many think sent this virus to us is going to appease it? Who do they think they are to think that they know better than this being and can get it to change its mind?

April 8, 2020

Why Was Black Panther Controversial?

I finally got around to watching Black Panther (2018). I waited so long because of how tired I have become of superhero movies. I figured that I should at least partially get over that or I'd not be able to give another one a fair shot. I knew I'd have to watch it eventually, though, because I was curious to see if I could figure out why the film was as controversial as it seemed to be. After all, some vocal White conservatives seemed to think it was the worst thing ever. I found myself in agreement with them on Ghostbusters (2016). It wasn't that I shared any of their concerns with the gender or race of the cast, but I thought the film was one of the worst I'd seen it some time.

My impressions of Black Panther turned out to be far more positive. I thought the cast was fantastic. While I didn't know all of their names, I recognized most of them from other roles. I repeatedly found myself exclaiming "hell yeah" when someone I didn't know was in the film but recognized from another role would appear for the first time. They were all great here too. The other thing that stood out as a big positive was the world that had been created for the film. It was visually stunning and reminded me a bit of Avatar in size and scope. For a film like this to work, the world-creation had better be top-notch. Fortunately, it was. In fact, I thought it might have been the most interesting one I'd seen in any of the countless superhero flicks.

April 6, 2020

The Meaning of Atheism Remains Controversial

camel smoking cigar

As obvious as the meaning of atheism seems to me, I sometimes forget that many atheists disagree with me about what atheism means. Fortunately, a few minutes on Twitter is all it takes for me to be reminded of this fact. I'm not being sarcastic. I really do think I need such reminders periodically. The primary point of contention seems to be whether atheism requires an explicit rejection of gods or whether merely lacking god-belief is sufficient. My position is that lacking god-belief is sufficient.

There may be other scenarios that could be used to illustrate this particular disagreement, but the one I've encountered more than any other involves the question of whether we are born atheists. I can't say I regard this as a critically important question, but my position is that we are born atheists. The way I see it, a baby is an atheist because a baby has never heard of gods and has no capacity to understand god-belief. The baby is "without theism" and is, therefore, an atheist. Atheism is the default position from where we all begin. Once a child has been subjected to religious indoctrination, atheism is often replaced with theism, at least temporarily.

April 4, 2020

Coping With the Quarantine

face mask virus

We've been told to stay home to minimize the spread of the novel coronavirus, and I sincerely hope most sane adults are now doing so. The Governor of Mississippi finally issued a shelter-in-place order that took effect yesterday. I believe that this measure came far too late, and I suspect that some of my neighbors will continue to ignore it. And so, the numbers of infected will continue to climb. A high price will be paid for incompetent leadership and conspiratorial thinking. We could have prevented the worst of this, but we did not do so. Now we have little choice but to try to ride it out over the next several months.

I hope that everyone who is now hunkering down in self-isolation, quarantine, or whatever else we might call this is doing as well as can be expected. I have few illusions that it will help since we all cope in different ways, but I thought I'd share some of what has been working for me. Even though I recognize that I am an outlier in that this sort of isolation is not a big departure from how I have lived for the last 20 years, I have found some things to be helpful that don't have much to do with how unbothered I am by the social isolation aspect of it.

April 2, 2020

Reconnecting with Humanism During the COVID-19 Pandemic

hamster shopping

The world is often not as we would like it to be. While many take pride in their attempts to face the world as it is, few manage to do so consistently or to the degree they might like. This includes atheists, as well as religious believers. We are all afflicted with cognitive biases that make this challenging. We must also contend with the experience of emotions that are not always conducive to reason. This helps explain why so many people seem blind to the costs of political tribalism, panic buying, or the sort of nonsense many religious leaders feed to their followers.

For atheists, it is usually easy to find fault with religious belief. Most of us are pretty good at doing so. Of course, it helps considerably that many prominent religious individuals make public pronouncements that should be a source of embarrassment but somehow aren't. It might be funny if this sort of thing didn't carry the sort of costs for the rest of us it often does. It is much harder to shine the spotlight on ourselves and detect the many ways in which we are not nearly as rational as we'd like to believe. Most of us can probably think of examples of our shortcomings, but we generally prefer to keep them to ourselves.