Monthly Archives: June 2016

Every Sperm is Not Sacred

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Revan

Originally posted here.

GOD BLESS MONTY PYTHON! Oh, sorry. I am a fucking atheist and I don’t believe in gawd. Well, let us hold hands, sing Kumbaya and thank the flying spaghetti monster! Every god damn sperm is sacred. Yes! I am taking that from Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life so bogger off and don’t sue me. I don’t think that as an American I have ever said bogger off, let alone written it. What ever.

I want to send a big shout out to the United States Supreme Court! In two wonderful rulings they, in a 5-3 ruling that really is not 5-3 but would have been 5-4 had Scalia been alive, SCOTUS shot down the Texas laws that required abortion clinics to have insane regulations to their out patient clinics. I am not a fucking journalist so look up the rulings and the laws yourself. They are all over. Hell, turn on Glenn Beck or Alex Jones and you will hear all about the evil secular and communist take over of ‘Merica because of the rulings.

Actually, the other ruling was not so much a ruling but a refusal to hear another idiotic case brought forth by stupid right wing religious dominionists. SCOTUS is not going to hear anymore of their nonsense stating that women do not have a right to birth control just because the employer is a bigoted moron who thinks that they can’t sign a stupid wavier and let the government pay for it. This is dumb and it comes down to one idiotic reason: EVERY SPERM IS SACRED.

The religious don’t care about life. I will gladly pull from George Carlin and many other people who point out that they are Pro Birth, no help from birth-eighteen, then ship them off to die in the military. They want more people to tithe. Am I over generalizing? Sure I am but remember that this is a nation that has a 70% Christian adherence. The far right wing controls a lot while at the same time they claim persecution. Their persecution claims boil down to “don’t stop me from being a bigot or else you are hurting me”.

It might seem that I am all over the board in this post. I am talking about sperm being sacred, SCOTUS overturning sexist laws in Texas and other states that attempt to regulate a woman’s right to choose what happens with her own body out of existence, not hearing a new claim from Washington about religious organization ability to deny birth control, religious persecution, pro-birth, and the list goes on. Actually it all does boil down to one simple thing, one hinge pin issue and that is the issue of who controls a woman’s (SINGULAR) body. Does she control it or does god (i.e. the state and church). All of these arguments come down to this: Does she have the right to choose her own birth control methods? Does she have the right to have insurance cover them or to be denied by a corporation who has a vested interest in having chattel pumping out new workers and tithing members? Does she have the right to have an abortion if she is not ready or comfortable having a child? The CHURCH (Not just the Catholics but almost all, including all evangelicals and fundamentals and my home cult of JWs) will tell you she has no right to the above. Some will side with a woman’s right to have birth control but none of the above support her right to an abortion and that is fucking dumb. Their argument boils down to one simple thing: EVERY SPERM IS SACRED. No it is not. If that was the case then every period a woman had would be murder and every night ejaculation a twelve year old boy had be manslaughter. All this comes down to is the religious right clawing at keeping their power and at every turn science showing that their beliefs and doctrines are stupid. Monty Python sent us a fucking prophecy!

On a side note, this is why elections have consequences. The SCOTUS vs TX was a 5-3 ruling and if Scalia was alive it would have been 5-4. That is terrible. We must have a liberal in the White House and a slightly liberal Senate. I do not want a Democratic majority in the houses, White House, and SCOTUS. That would be a one party rule and be bad. I DO want the White House to be filled by Hillary Clinton this fall because I want her to appoint the future SCOTUS vacancies. I want a slightly liberal senate to confirm a the liberal justices to SCOTUS. I do not want a liberal house. I want a slightly conservative House of Representatives because they hold the purse strings. Will I get my wishes? Doubtful. In the meantime we need to fight for feminist rights and that means holding the White House and taking back the Senate.

AoP

Every Sperm is Sacred

SCOTUS TX

SCOTUS WASHINGTON

George Carlin

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The Orlando Shooting Demonstrates Why We Need Intersectional Secularism

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Jeremiah Traeger

By the time of this writing, over a week has gone by where everyone, their dog, their mother, and the kitchen sink have gotten to weigh in on what happened in the early morning of June 12, 2016 at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. While social media users continue to spout with a usual lack of nuance, I have been heartened to hear prominent secular voices refuse to reduce the cause to a single problem. Of course, would the shooter still be around, we would need to hold him accountable, but in his absence we still have to look at the surrounding issues that led to such an atrocity. Such causes include:

  • Gun control, or a lack thereof
  • Societal views on gender and sexuality
  • Homophobia in Christianity
  • Homophobia in Islam
  • Toxic masculinity
  • Racism against the latinx community

 

The answer, of course, is that all of these factors are likely contributors. Some may have more of a direct link to the shooter’s mentality than others, but none can be dismissed out of hand.

 

A few of these have obvious links to atheist and secular activism in a fight to eliminate religious privilege. But even the most obvious religious links have ties to intersectionality with LGBTQ rights. The perpetrator in Orlando was raised in a society with enormous religious barriers towards respecting queer people. He was also raised in an Islamic household, under a father who had previously supported the Taliban. Whether it’s Christian or Islamic, fundamentalist religious ideals are irredeemably soaked in homophobia that refuses to acknowledge the rights and equal privileges of all gender and sexual identities, and both undoubtedly touched the shooter*. As far as secular activism, this is low hanging fruit that we can attack in our endeavor to eliminate religious dominance in the modern world.

 

This presents an opportunity. Status quo defenders will whine when the American Humanist Association sets up an LGBTQ alliance and the Reason Rally implements a code of conduct specifically outlining unacceptable behaviors against queer and trans individuals. Shouldn’t this be the norm, though? What if the shooter had been raised in a society where these attitudes had been the norm?

 

The world we live in currently has a massive barrier to overcome towards accepting non-heteronormative identities, seeped in religion and tradition. As the secular movement has no traditional or dogmatic roots, it lacks that inherent barrier. We therefore have a capability that most facets of society largely don’t: we are capable of a space that is welcoming to those folks. The largest criticism against inviting this cause is that it’s outside the scope of secularism and we don’t have to include it. If I’m given the choice of risking mission creep for the sake of providing an environment where people have a reprieve from a world threatening their mere existence, I’m pretty damn happy to take that risk.

 

We also have reason to link what the shooter did to toxic attitudes about what constitutes masculinity. We know that the shooter had a history of abusive behavior, as he beat his first wife and held her hostage. While we cannot comment on the household dynamics in the shooter’s home prior to the attack, we do know that his second wife unsuccessfully tried to talk him out of it. We know that Abrahamic faiths are unapologetically patriarchal. Would a more equal household role between the man and his wife have given him pause? Would fewer toxic attitudes have prevented him from running gung-ho into the club and gunning down over a hundred people? Sociologists have linked bullying due to perceived homophobia or lack of masculinity to lashing out in violent attacks; could the two men kissing set the shooter off due to a threat to his manhood? Children are taught from a young age both in churches and from their peers in school their proper role. The man is said to be the physically strong leader and the dominant force of the household, and the existence of men explicitly rejecting that sacred hierarchy at Pulse challenges that.

 

These are not definite accusations, but a minimization of traditional gender roles in current society would certainly make us less likely to ask these questions. Seeing that secularists are not inherently tied to these positions, we are again in a somewhat unique position to tear down toxic masculinity and gender roles that religious folks tend to be less capable of. But as critical thinkers we can’t give in to confirmation bias and pretend that once religion is eliminated that sexism and expected gender roles will vanish. If we care about eliminating the problem, we can not only work to wash away the religions and traditions that exacerbate institutionalized biases, but scrub through the cracks and corners of the non-religious institutions as well as to rinse away residual effects of dogma. All things being equal, I would love to be part of a movement that is at the forefront of this. We are capable of a wider spectrum of gender expression, and a reduced expectation of certain gender roles.

 

To be clear, I am not advocating that every atheist/secular/freethought organization must necessarily include intersectional issues as part of the cause. Focusing on just one cause for an organization is strategically sound and helps us pick our battles more effectively. And there is a need for meetups and groups merely for the sake of community. That being said, even the large organizations that almost exclusively focus on separation of church and state issues have made inclusivity and non-secular causes a priority, and every organization should prioritize inclusivity regardless of the work each organization does. Dave Silverman of American Atheists has pointed out the necessity of harassment policies protecting LGBTQ people at conventions and Reason Rally. The Freedom From Religion Foundation has established Nonbelief Relief, which is exclusive to humanitarian efforts such as support for the victims of the Orlando Shooting and relief from the Sudanese famine. If this is mission creep for these organizations, it certainly does not appear to be a problem for either.

 

If you are an atheist, you are in a excellent position to overcome certain prejudices of the past. You can listen to the needs of LGBTQ causes, and you don’t have to see it through a religious filter that reduces an innate part of their identity to an inherent sin. You’re not tied to seeing the woman of the household as subservient. You’re capable of reaching out to causes fighting people who are tied to tradition and prejudice. And if you need verification that this type of work is needed, the Orlando Shooting certainly is a good indicator.

 


*I largely reject that he had any ties to Islamic terrorist groups, as he has at various points of time claimed allegiance to Hezbollah, Al-Qaeda, and ISIS, who are all in conflict with each other. His lack of a beard and consumption of alcohol indicate a lack of credibility that he was a fundamentalist. This isn’t to say he wasn’t a true Muslim, but I have good reasons for not accepting that he had a substantial part in any extremist religious group. Also, many sources have stated that he had the Grindr app and had attended Pulse before, but the FBI has found no supporting evidence for that. Had he been attracted to other men, this still would have not absolved him from homophobic attitudes he had internalized.

 

My Opinion on Why Most Christian Movies Suck!

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Sylia Gray

As an aspiring screenwriter, I was listening to a screenwriting podcast called “On the Page.” And in one particular episode, the host of the show Pilar Alessandra, who is also a professional screenwriting instructor and author, invited two experts from some Christian media group as guests. And they were talking about screenwriting for a niche market of religious films. (Pilar’s podcast is secular. Faith-based films is just a subject of this one particular episode.) In that episode, they were talking about the faith-film market, and how religious people among the listeners could break into that niche outside of the Hollywood mainstream. And one of the things that the guests said that surprised me (if I correctly remember how they said it) was that even they themselves were dissatisfied with how most Christian movies tend to alienate general audiences because they tend to get too preachy. And as an atheist, I totally agree.

To be honest, there have been some Christian-themed movies that I have enjoyed even as an atheist. One of my favorite Disney/Pixar movies was Wall-E which was written and directed by Andrew Staunton and Pete Doctor – both of whom are devout Christians. And as devout Christians, during the story’s development process, both Doctor and Staunton took creative liberties to instill Christian themes into the story for Wall-E. But in spite of the Christian themes, they were still able to make Wall E into a successful movie with mass appeal for the general audiences worldwide and generating half a billion dollar in revenue. In fact, Pete Doctor once said in an article about his role as Pixar’s storyteller is that his Christian faith is his own private business, not anyone else’s. Which I admire.

Another Judeo-Christian themed movie that I enjoyed was Darren Aronofsky’s Noah movie. Aronofsky (He’s is an atheist Jew) and Paramount Pictures didn’t have an agenda to preach the Bible. They just want to entertain broad audiences, Christian and non-Christian alike, by presenting the story as a Jewish mythology (which, to my understanding, the Jews actually ripped from the Babylonians).

Now… I think the reason why some Christian-themed movies like Noah and Wall-E are enjoyable and appealing to broad audiences as opposed to hardcore Christian movies like any of Kirk Cameron films is because Walt Disney and Paramount Pictures’ business is to entertain people in order to make money. And in order to cash in and make as much money as possible, studios need to produce movies that are generally appealing to a broad range of audiences. Disney and Paramount’s agenda is to make as much money as they can by entertaining wide range of audiences by making widely appealing movies.

The problem I see with a lot of hardcore Christian movies is that many of them tend to have preachy storytelling with an “in-your-face” approach to conveying Christian themes. You know, where it has things like:

– Christian characters, like a preacher, going “Hallelujah! Praise the Lord!” or “The Bible says this and Bible says that” almost every 10 minutes.
– Stereotypical (and often deliberately misrepresenting) caricatures of LGBTQ people, atheists, and other non-Christians

For those who read this post, let me ask you:

Why do you think people go to the movies? Why do YOU go to the movies? You go to the movies because you want to be entertained, right?

I think most people go to the movies because they want entertainment first and foremost. And a hardcore religious film with a preachy in-your-face message would be a HUGE turn off. Thus, wasting $10 – $15, plus, you cannot refund the 2 – 3 hours you could have spent on watching something more enjoyable. General moviegoers want to be entertained, not preached to. If they want to be Preached to, they’ll just attend church, mosque, synagogue, etc.

Apparently, unlike mainstream Hollywood, it seems like most hardcore Christian movie studios have their agenda backwards. Their movies appear to be produced to preach to audience first, rather than to prioritize on entertaining them. It’s no wonder that most Christian movies only tend to appeal to their core Christian audiences, even if it stars Hollywood heavyweights like Nicolas Cage. And there are people like Ray Comfort whining and complaining about Aronofsky’s Noah movie not “being Christian enough”. And speaking of atheists and Christians, Kirk Cameron blames atheists for his Saving Christmas movie’s spectacular failure. (Kirk, it’s not our fault that your movie sucks! It’s YOUR fault that you can’t make movies that are appealing broadly beyond your core Christian audiences!)

Here are two quotes I found interesting that I think relates very well to this thread:

“Out of our years of experimenting and experience, we learned one basic thing about bringing pleasure and knowledge to people of all ages and conditions, which goes to the very roots of public communication. That is this: the power of relating facts, as well as fables, in story form.” – Walt Disney

“Orestes is made to say himself what the poet rather than the story demands.”
– Aristotle

Prayer in a time of crisis, a letter to theist and atheist alike.

Rev Alex

Reverend Alex Moreschi

I have thought about writing this for some time.  It is a difficult subject to broach, but I think it is an important topic to discuss in my ongoing efforts to build bridges between theists and atheists.  After tragedies, there are many things that I see on social media, from condolences to pointing fingers to expressions of despair or solidarity. Because of the circles I run in, I see many posts about praying for the victims of violence and hatred born out of fear. On the other hand, I see many of my atheist family professing boldly that prayer does nothing and is a waste of time; these posts generally look something along the lines of “don’t pray, do something.”

 

As is often the case, I see where both sides are coming from. As a theist, I believe there is good in prayer and see the value in it in times of tragedy. Yet, I see the perspective of my atheist family that sees prayer as a waste of time. I think that this view comes with good reason. Many Christians view prayer as a sort of slot machine, where prayers are put in and every now and then money comes back out.  This has become a common definition among those in theist and atheist communities; one, of course sees it as profitable, the other as utter nonsense, even though the definition itself stays the same. If this, then, is the concept of prayer, then of course it is worthless in times of tragedy.  From an empirical point of view, there is no evidence to suggest that if one prays for X, X will occur as a result. Otherwise, I dare say, there would be no atheists. It makes total sense then that those in atheist communities would proclaim that theists should “hold their prayers.”

Yet I see the perspective of my friends and colleagues who do pray, offering prayers for others, and displaying such on social media. If prayer is not merely putting money in a slot machine, but rather a means of connection within the community and with what is believed to be a higher power, then perhaps there is some value in it, especially in times of crisis. What is needed, I think, is a different understanding of the term.  There are a great deal of us Christians who see prayer as something else entirely.

In my tradition, we have this prayer that is often said during the principle Sunday service: “Deliver us from the presumption of coming to this Table for solace only, and not for strength; for pardon only, and not for renewal.” The point being that we must be reminded that prayer for us is not merely about pardon or solace, it is about gathering the strength to continue to engage the world. For many of us, it is a way of coming together and being present for and with one another in a place that is sacred to us within that communion. Many draw their strength from such practices. Strength that is then used to go out beyond the church walls and stand against the forces of hatred and destruction in our world.

Now, perhaps this is weakness; needing such a practice to find empowerment and connectedness. Perhaps those of us who find comfort and strength in such practices are misguided or delusional about doctrine or theology or even belief in God. Perhaps there are other ways to gain such strength or “renewal of spirit.” And yet. What I would say to those in secular communities is that if prayer acts as a source of empowerment for many so that they can be present in other ways, emotionally and physically, then why boldly proclaim that those who practice it should refrain, especially in a time of sorrow? I would argue that by making such claims as “do not pray for those in trouble, do something about it,” reinforces the idea that the two are mutually exclusive, which I have argued not to be the case even from a secular standpoint. These statements reinforce the idea that prayer can be done as something other than a renewal of strength or call to action and perhaps are more harmful than helpful.

Many Christians see prayer as merely something to do so that they satisfy their moral compass. To them I would say this: you are missing the point. If a practice like prayer does not embolden you to stand next to those who have been victims of oppression and hatred, then such prayer is missing the point and perhaps is not prayer at all. What I would say to my Christian communities is to pray, as a source of communion, renewal, and strength. But do so with your sandals on and your staff in hand, for there is work to be done. To those in secular communities I would ask that you not proliferate this idea that prayer is merely sitting around doing nothing; even if from your opinion it is just that. I ask this because if we can vocally do anything to embolden others into action or encourage them into practices that help them engage the world in love and peace, then we should do so. For some, that comes down to practices such as prayer. By all means, call those individuals and groups out who proclaim, through words or actions, that it is morally permissible to pray without action; I will be right there with you speaking vehemently against such a thing. Yet I see no reason to attack or divide in times of tragedy by assuming one particular definition of prayer is carte blanc applicable to all who practice it.

As always, I am open to criticism and counterarguments. These help us to better understand one another and perhaps grow closer together even as we disagree on many topics. Agreement is not important, but understanding is paramount. The more understanding we have of those around us, the more we are able to be present with each other in love, weep in sorrow, and laugh in joy. In love, as always,

wonder, wisdom, and peace,

The Profane Parson

Allies as Students and Hype Men

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Jeremiah Traeger

It’s no secret that among skeptics there is a reluctance to throw support behind social justice causes. Like most things, there are a variety of reasons from person to person why allyship isn’t expressed. I could give unsympathetic reasons for some of these so-called skeptics, but I will instead address the ones who are charitable and likely are holding back for well-meaning reasons.

There’s no “rulebook” or absolute guide to supporting a cause that doesn’t personally affect you. However, two common guidelines pop up time and time again:

  1. You need to listen to what those people are saying.
  2. You need to work to elevate the affected voices, without speaking over them or on behalf of them.

The general attitudes behind these rules have been skewed and distorted by the anti-social justice crowd and propped up as anti-skeptical behaviors. When these rules are spouted from an uncharitable source, the first is portrayed as, “You have to take everything we say uncritically.” The second is presented as, “You have to shut up, and it’s only people in our cause that can possibly contribute.” Both miss the actual point of what these guidelines are trying to say. These are general behaviors that demonstrate both a sincere desire to improve the well-being of others, as well as actions that usually lead to a net positive outcome. You’re welcome to change the world in your own way, but realize that you aren’t exactly the first to do so and you don’t have to reinvent the wheel to find effective methods. That road has been traveled long before you started.

I think the problem with these guidelines is not that they are bad, but because they have been portrayed in an unsympathetic light. Because of this, the best way to clarify their meaning may be to present allyship with some positive analogies that illustrate the substance behind the rules. If you understand the following roles, then you will have a better understanding of why these guidelines are helpful.

 

Allyship as being a student in a college classroom

 

The only person who runs the show in a classroom is the professor. The professor’s job is to communicate the relevant information in a digestible way, and at an appropriate level to the students. The best professors are able to engage students by encouraging dialogue, participation, and questions throughout their lectures, but it is understood that this is not a place for students to challenge everything that the professor says. Unless this is a philosophy classroom, a given lecture is probably not a debate between the student and the professor. Even if that were the case, a prescient student would probably recognize that anything they would say is likely something the teacher has heard multiple times over. Any student expecting to change the mind of the professor is wildly mistaken, as learning is the relevant goal.

This is why even though you may be “just asking questions”, asking question at every possible instance rings hollow in terms of earnest truth-seeking. If a student taking an introductory biology course kept asking questions like, “Why are there still monkeys?” or, “Why are there still missing links?” or, “Isn’t evolution just a theory?” it’s pretty apparent that the student isn’t really interested in answers. No reasonable observer would characterize that “student” as someone who really wants to learn things, they would characterize them as a person there to waste everyone’s time and halt productive learning. For the same reasons, asking, “If you’re not certain there isn’t a god, why don’t you call yourself an agnostic?” or, “Why don’t you focus on black-on-black crime?” and similar questions don’t really sound like they’re coming from people who genuinely care about the well-being of atheists or black persons, they come across as tone policing.

Of course, students and allies should both be encouraged to think critically about what they are being taught. But just because you aren’t able to wrap your head around an idea, or even have a disagreement about a point, doesn’t mean the presenter is wrong or a poor communicator. Social issues can be just as complex as a college class, often even more so, so there’s no way any one listener should be supposed to “get it” all at once. Any good student who doesn’t “get” a subject right away should not assume that they automatically know better than the professor. A responsible student would shoot the teacher an email or go to office hours to have a one-on-one dialogue about whatever they don’t understand. The reasonable assumption is that they aren’t getting the big picture or are having a misunderstanding, not that the teacher is completely wrong.

As an example, I consider myself a cis ally to the trans community, and there have been a scarce few times where I thought there was a disagreement between me and my dear friend about Callie Wright about trans issues. One time I asked her why we should consider someone who has “completed their transition” (a problematic statement) and someone who no longer experiences dysphoria as trans, since they are able to function in society the same as someone who has always identified with what was on their birth certificate. It turns out that our “disagreement” was not a disagreement at all since it rested on my faulty assumptions that dysphoria defines what a trans person is, and that I hadn’t been informed that passing should not be the ultimate goal. Far from giving backlash, Callie explained in a following episode some of the problems behind my assumptions, and that even my understanding of what a trans person is was flawed (all that defines a trans person is that their identity doesn’t align with what they were assigned at birth). Another time, I was very uncomfortable at making a particular argument within the context of the “bathroom debates”. At the time of writing this, there has never been an instance of a man “pretending to be trans” in order to invade a women’s-only private space. This conflicts with multiple news sources claiming that a man in Toronto has done just that. Callie has stated over and over in multiple settings that there has never been a confirmed case of it happening, and when she opened a blog post by reiterating that, I felt compelled to shoot her an email asking her about this incident. I felt stupid after reading the rest of the blog post, when she detailed exactly that case, and noted that there were conflicting accounts on whether or not the person in question was “a true trans person”. Any statements that stated that the perpetrator was faking it can easily be mere accusations of deceptive behavior, and at best it is unconfirmed that the person was pretending. In both instances where I “disagreed” with Callie on how she should spread her message, she had done the research or had the relevant background, and I had not.

This makes sense, and it is an entirely reasonable position to treat an affected person as the “expert”. A person’s lived experiences are probably going to outweigh what you know if you are not similarly affected. Likewise, you are probably not going to outsmart an expert in a field like a professor. I have previously touched on how scientists and faculty have to invest a large amount of time and energy into their work to become “experts”. Any “argument” you can come up with is almost certainly something they have encountered before. Compare this to someone who has experienced bigotry their whole life, particularly someone engaged in activism. Any argument you bring up isn’t going to be anything new they haven’t seen, and will likely be as fruitless as asking how asking an environmental engineering professor how climate change still exists even though it’s snowing outside.

Ultimately, both the classroom and allyship are there for you to learn. You will start with some of the basics, and work your way towards better and better expertise. Don’t expect to get it all at once. There are some inherent inaccuracies that will be involved in learning a new subject. After taking a general chemistry course you will still think of basic SPDF bonds without hybridized bonds that you learn about later in organic chemistry, or you will think of chemical reactions using up 100% of the reactants without the thorough knowledge of chemical equilibrium that states it will never happen. You will, however, get better and better over time. As with all things, we can recognize that nobody will ever have perfect knowledge of anything. It is only when you’ve spent enough time that you can be considered knowledgeable about a subject enough to speak up in an effective manner. This is where the second analogy comes in.

 

Allyship as a hype man*

 

The most important aspect of being a hype man is that the show isn’t about you. That doesn’t mean that you can’t have your own voice or say in the matter, you can’t have influence, and that your critical input shouldn’t play a factor in the people you are trying to help out. In Icons of Hip Hop: An Encyclopedia of the Movement, Music, and Culture, Mickey Hess states, “A hype man is a figure who plays a central but supporting role within a group, making his own interventions, generally aimed at hyping up the crowd while also drawing attention to the words of an MC.” I really think this illustrates many of the points in helping raise the voice of affected persons.

Allyship is important, and many movements wouldn’t be successful without them. I hope I don’t have to make this case. But ultimately, it’s the affected persons who need to be heard. The hype man can get people pumped up for the message, and similarly, allies are important for emphasizing certain issues that don’t necessarily affect them. A hype man doesn’t speak on behalf of someone, but they do shout in support of that person. If an ally sees a societal problem and wants to see it corrected, the ally shouldn’t speak on the issue as if they are an expert right off the bat. If they have a platform or an access to a platform, they draw attention to people affected by the problem.

This also emphasizes that an ally doesn’t merely parrot what another activist will say. An ally is a unique individual, and they have their own voice, and they are able to spread their message in the way that they think is most effective. It’s important to note, though, that “whatever is most effective” should be within the context of what they have learned from the people they are trying to help. It wouldn’t make sense to hype up a rapper whose message you weren’t familiar with, or that doesn’t really align with what you’re trying to say. That being said, there certainly appear to be hype men who have a unique message and a unique voice, such as Flavor Flav for Public Enemy or Yo-Landi Vi$$er of Die Antwoord. They are able to get across their message in their own way, while successfully contributing positively to the success of the group.

Those critical of social justice issues have a warped view of allyship such that they think you aren’t allowed to be critical if you are an ally. The previous analogy covered reasons why this can be attributed to lack of expertise, but let’s assume that you are educated enough on the message. If you really, truly think something is wrong, perhaps you are capable of talking to the star of the show. Perhaps it will help. If an artist truly wants to put on the best show, they will value your input, especially if they are a friend and you have made it clear that you want the best presentation possible. But if one rapper told another rapper exactly why they should change “word X” into “word Y”, or that they should say something “like this instead”, the star of the show would be entirely in the right of calling that person out for word or tone policing. If something is egregiously wrong, like if an artist is too drunk to function before a performance, of course something should be done. But this perspective is entirely focused on the exception to the rule instead of the rule itself. The stage is not the place for criticism or debate; it’s about getting out the message. If something’s truly wrong and of genuine concern, approach it the way most conversations should take place: in a private, comfortable setting with the understanding of mutual respect.

Again, though, the emphasis is not on you. This also goes for drawing attention to how good of a job you are at supporting the cause. This is why things like #notallmen are hardly reassuring, or that a Christian group titled Not All Like That misses the point. We know that there are Christians that are not only non-homophobic or non-transphobic, but that doesn’t mean we can’t recognize that religious attitudes are at the heart of those bigotries. Even if a hype man is doing a fantastic job of riling up the audience and engaging the crowd in callbacks, the hype man would be completely out of place drawing attention to himself once the person they support is on a roll. When a religious ally hears of the damage that Christians have given to LGBTQ youth and their first instinct is to emphasize that, “It’s not me who is doing that”, they pull the spotlight towards them and away from where the problem is. It shifts the conversation away from where it needs to be held. And that is harmful.

Neither of these analogies are perfect. No analogy will be perfect. There are terrible professors who don’t do their job well, and are occasionally forced to teach things that they aren’t well-versed in. I also don’t think most hip-hop artists need hype men, and I’m certain that I got something wrong about hype men due to my lack of rap knowledge. Perhaps I should take my own advice and some commenters will be able to give me feedback where I am misplaced about hip-hop culture. But the point is there are positive, helpful reasons behind two of the biggest guidelines for allyship. Skeptics sometimes are uncomfortable with staying quiet or taking a back seat when needed, but both of them are there for many reasons. They help you both grow as a person and to help a cause. It also emphasizes that there is a time and place for many types of dialogue and behavior. With proper education and experience, we can take what we hear and use it to change the world in the best way possible.

*I really wish there was a more gender-neutral variant of this term. For the sake of an otherwise good analogy that emphasizes some important points about allyship, I have elected to use the original term “hype man”, with the emphasis that this shouldn’t imply any elevated importance to masculinity or gender essentialism.

A personal Story

Daniel Dunkin

Daniel Duncan aka Daniel Bible Pants

“Hey, Family, I wanted to share a bad experience with you through a metaphor. It’s going to be a little repetitive, but there’s a good reason for that. Please bear with me as you imagine the following scene at your favorite bar, which has just brought on new staff.

This is one of the most tragic days of your life. You’ve just delivered the first eulogy that’s ever been asked of you, and three hours after returning home, your father-in-law (who lives next door) dies in his living room. While that wasn’t unexpected, the timing was catastrophic for you and your entire family. You really need a drink and to take care of the final arrangements.

The server arrives and starts to take care of things for you. During the course of their duties, they starts to tell you about the food, which they feel has changed their life. they ask if the family would like to meet the chef to talk about the food. My mother-in-law declines and no-one else asks to meet the chef; even if they want the food, they’re not interested in what’s on the menu right now. I wasn’t interested at all, I just wanted things taken care of, and the server was becoming bothersome.

Despite our refusal of the chef’s services, and us not asking for the food, the server proceeds to talk more about how the impacted them and comforted them through their life. The server then forces the food down our throats and at that point I was so angry I had to leave my grieving wife and go outside before I made a scene and shouted the server into tears. – End Scene –

Now, that sounds like a ridiculous series of events, but I’m sure many of you have already caught the metaphor. For those that haven’t, copy and paste the three previous paragraphs into your word processor of choice. Now, do three quick “find and replace” functions, replacing “chef” with “chaplain”, “the food” with “Jesus”, and “server” with “hospice nurse”. While it was still outrageous, this is unfortunately more plausible in the American South.

The day this happened, we had interred my wife’s grandmother’s ashes, came home and everything had just settled down. My brother-in-law and his wife had went to their home, down the street, and my wife and I had went to run a few quick errands. We knew my father-in-law was not long for this world. He had just been placed on home hospice the previous week, but he seemed in good condition that morning. It shocked us all to our core to find out that he had died so quickly, while everything else was going on. For this hospice nurse to come in and proselytize to us at our darkest moment was so far beyond unprofessional that I was speechless.

When the nurse said that they asked every family in this situation if they knew Jesus, I stormed out of the house and couldn’t return for over an hour. I wanted so badly to scream at this nurse about how improper their actions were, and I was literally shaking with anger. For the good of my family, and for the sake of not making the nurse feel physically threatened, I contained my anger, but it took everything I had. I wanted to point out to them that they would be in my position, had a Muslim nurse asked us if we were servants of Allah. I am thankful that I had my chosen family to talk to, and my dogs to calm me down so I could return to my wife after about an hour.

I’m not the first to point out that grief is something with which the secular world has a unique struggle. We don’t have a ready, “We’ll all meet again someday” answer to comfort each other. Having grown up religious, and remaining surrounded by the religious, the platitude of people living in their family’s memory rings hollow. This is especially true the more we learn about fluid how memory is, and how each time we reflect on a memory we change it. The best I could come up with was to talk about how my father-in-law influenced me, and that I was grateful for him accepting me into his family. While that means a lot to me, to the fervent religious folk it lacks the key ingredient of the Lord Almighty placing carrying them across the sand. It leaves me wondering what to do next.

I was encouraged by friends to make the nurse a pariah, which would have suited my initial rage. However, I think it was better that they are able to be educated and given the chance to correct their behavior without a public backlash. I don’t write this to tell you how to handle things if you find yourself in such a situation, but rather to share my experience in hopes that people who proselytize to grieving families will realize how harmful it can be.

Postscript: I sent a complaint in to the corporate offices of the hospice provider, and I am satisfied with how they resolved the issue. I have also offered to give input for their company-wide education for this matter, which is part of the resolution. In my complaint, I assured the company that I realized that the nurse thought they was doing a good thing, and the fact that it wasn’t needed to be clarified to them. Discounting their evangelical activity, they were very kind, thoughtful and good at their job. They even switched to poorly coded language for their Jesus-speak when I eventually went back in the house.

I love you all, take care.

Mr. Bible Pants is one of the hosts of the Country Fried Freethought Podcast, found on Spreaker, iTunes, Facebook and at countryfriedfreethought.com. If you would like to contact him, just email mrbiblepants@gmail.com.”

A journey to truth

finding-the-truth-about-kit-homes-300x238

Nora Legions

I was born in Northwest Louisiana in a Catholic household. The second oldest of 4 (my brother, born 3 years before me, passed away soon after birth), I was the guinea pig. My parents didn’t really know how they were going to raise us all, but they knew we’d be raised in the Catholic religion. None of us three were baptized until 2 years after my youngest sister was born. We were made to go to Sunday bible school every Sunday, followed by church, and during the summer we went to summer bible school. When I was 8 years old, I received first communion. My mother and father were so proud, but they didn’t realize that their indoctrination of me was failing quickly. Even at that age, I was questioning what I was learning. I never dreamed of where this questioning would lead me as I’d never been taught about other religions. I literally believed everyone in the world was Catholic. There were no other beliefs.

 

Before being able to receive first communion (the body and blood of Jesus Christ), I had to make my first confession. What was I supposed to confess? I was 8. What could I have possibly done wrong at this point to warrant going to confession? As I sat in the pew waiting my turn to go into the confessional I began to think back on my short life, what I could remember anyhow. I still couldn’t come up with anything. So I decided to lie. I knew that lying was considered a sin and I was worried about being found out and having God strike me down right there in the church but I couldn’t very well go in there and tell the priest that I’d done nothing wrong. If there was one thing I’d learned very well by this time, it was that, as a Catholic, I needed to be filled with guilt. Guilt over what? I didn’t know. I just knew I was supposed to feel it. I came up with something that escapes me right now, and when I left the confessional with my penance of 10 Hail Mary’s I knew then that the Catholic God didn’t exist. Surely if he existed he’d have punished me for lying to his priest. Again I didn’t know what this meant at the time, but it started a life-long journey.

I met my future husband at the age of 12 at the bowling alley that our parents bowled in every week. Honestly, I’d known “John” most of my life but we never talked until this point. We started hanging out every week in the café and it was then that I realized there were other religions in the world. He was raised Baptist but didn’t consider himself to fall into any religion. He was only 15 at the time and it seemed like he already knew where he was going in life. We started dating the following year, and though it bothered my parents that he was 3 years older than me, they allowed it to happen because they’d known him all his life and trusted him. Little did they know that he was helping me on my path to ultimately leaving all faith behind.

We dated for 9 months and during this time I was able to have a respite from the Catholic faith. I was still told to attend church every Sunday but every day after school I spent hours on the phone with my boyfriend. I spent every Friday night with him at the bowling alley.

We split up in January of 2005 but I didn’t go running back to the faith. A friend of mine at school, “Marie”, had introduced me to Paganism and it interested me. Admittedly, looking back now, I was interested because of the magic aspect. And the no church of course. When I turned 15, after going through confirmation in the Catholic church, my parents offered me the choice to either continue going to church every week or not. They thought that after my going through 4 of the 7 sacraments of the Catholic church that I’d been thoroughly indoctrinated and that I would never leave. I did. I told them that I wished to not go anymore. They were both visibly disheartened at this news, but they didn’t take back their word. I was allowed to stay home every Sunday and do what I liked.

So I did. I stayed in bed every Sunday morning. I still woke up early (15 years of doing that every week will do that to you) but I’d read or watch TV instead of thinking about God or church or anything religious. A few months of this and I was beginning to get bored. I started spending the night at friends’ houses every weekend that I was allowed. I spent most of those weekends at “Marie’s” house. Her mother was Christian though the denomination was never told to me. I went with them both to church one day. I remember the Friday before telling my parents what we were going to be doing that weekend and my dad said “Now don’t go converting to their religion. You know I care for them both but Catholicism is the true religion.” He said it light-heartedly but I could see the conviction on his face. I paid no mind to this warning because I firmly believed I was done with all Christianity.

The day I went to church with them was enlightening. If you’ve ever attended a Catholic mass you know how stuffy and uptight it can be. Stand, kneel, stand, kneel, sit, stand and hold hands. It was very structured. Though there were some jokes said by the priest, they went over my head and no one took the time to explain them to me. Possibly because I was a child and I’d “never understand”. At this church there was none of that. It didn’t even look like a church on the inside. It looked more like a school auditorium. It felt quite comforting to see such laid back surroundings. I even understood everything the guy was saying (pastor? priest? reverend?). I still didn’t agree with the bible aspects but what he said was touching my heart. I remember his talk that day brought me to tears. I can’t remember what he said but I know that after he asked that anyone who was touched by this sermon come toward the stage and he’d pray over us. I did this and I remember stoically fighting back my tears and losing that battle when a boy, who couldn’t have been much older than I, came up behind me, put his hand on my shoulder, and prayed for me. I lost it at that. When he finished praying for me, I turned to thank him but I couldn’t find him.

That night, as they took me home, I started to reflect on my decision to leave the church behind. I asked my parents the following Sunday if I could go to church with them. They were elated and of course said yes. I tried for a few months to sit down and understand exactly what was being taught, but the surroundings of the Catholic church were starting to turn me off to religion once again. I stayed with the church for a few months like I said and then I left, never to return again.

At this time, “John” was living in North Dakota. He’d gone for a friend’s wedding and upon loving the atmosphere and meeting many friends he moved up there quickly. We stayed in contact through his nine months up north and I told him many things that were going on in my life.

I started dating “Tim” around September of 2005, a month after “John” moved. When I started dating him I started delving into Paganism with the help of “Marie” and some of her other friends. I was really just dabbling and I didn’t know what I was doing but at the time I was one of those people that believed that I knew better than everyone, except for the people who were teaching me. So when I started to tell “Tim” what I was doing in Paganism it broke us up. He knew more than I did about that particular religion and I never knew that. He told me “You have no idea what being a Pagan is about. You need to grow up and learn more.”

Of course I was angry and I gave up on it all calling myself agnostic. Something had to have created us but I didn’t know what and at the time I couldn’t care less. Upon telling “John” about this breakup he told me “Don’t worry, Nora. You’re still learning. You’ll find your happiness one day.” That was why I loved this man. Though we were no longer together he still just wanted me to be happy.

“John” moved back to Louisiana a few days after my 16th birthday and we started dating again that same day. I knew at this time that he was the one for me and that no one else would do. Kind of dangerous thinking for a 16 year old, but remember, I knew everything.

Seven months later, we got engaged. Through those seven months, I never thought about my faith. I only thought about my schooling and my boyfriend. I was happy and content. I graduated high school in December of 2008 and that May “John” and I had a very modest wedding in Greenwood, Louisiana. We didn’t have the money for a honeymoon so instead we spent that night in a hotel.

Looking back on our nuptials I wish I would have changed our vows. We had a Justice of the Peace perform our ceremony and a couple of months before the wedding he gave us both a packet with the traditional ceremony on it and asked us to talk it over and make any changes we would like. He knew that I was a self-proclaimed agnostic and that “John” was, at the time, a non. We didn’t make any changes. That means that, yes, we had the “normal” religious stuff in our ceremony. At the time I didn’t care. I was just happy that I was marrying my one true love. Now I look back and though I’m still happy with my marriage, the wedding itself would have been much better without all of that.

Not too long after we got married I started to dive head first into Paganism, with “John’s” full support. Shortly after that, I had a name for my path: Solitary Eclectic Wiccan. Broken down it basically means that I worked on my own, I literally picked and chose what I believed from many different religions (which for me was the best part of this path), and I held to the basic rule of Wicca “An it harm none, do what thou will.” It was also around this time that “John” found his atheism. Though I was angry with him, because obviously something had to have created us, I supported him as well. It was the least I could do.

We moved to North Dakota a short two months after marrying. And a short 2 months later we moved back. As my husband likes to say “I took her from the womb and moved her 1500 miles away from everyone she knew.” It was very fitting. I was 18 years old and I’d never lived that far away from my parents. When we moved back, we moved in with his parents. After this, I went out and bought many books, journals, candles, incense, oils, etc. Anything I needed to practice my religion.

My mother had a stroke in March of 2010. In the summer of 2012 we moved in with my parents to help them out. Her stroke happened 12 hours before anyone found out, so due to this, she still has very little use in the right side of her body. It has made her more emotional and more stuck in her Catholic faith. God saved her life and nothing anyone tells her will change her mind on that. We lived with them until January of 2015.

During this three year period, my religion was stifled. I was able to read my books in my room. And from time to time, weather and time permitting, “John” would take me to a local park to perform rituals. However, this happened so few and far between that I felt my religion slipping away from me.

Late May of 2014 my father-in-law passed away. That June I found out that we were pregnant with our first child. It was a wonderful and saddening experience because we found out that we conceived (after doing the math) right around the time that “John’s” dad passed away. Everyone was elated with this pregnancy of course. It wasn’t going to be the first grandchild for my parents, as my younger sister had had her son in August of 2013, but it was our first child and people were happy for us. I miscarried in August of 2014. I was only 9 weeks pregnant but it was still devastating. During this time I heard a lot from my religious family telling me that “God needed another angel” and “God will replace this child when you are ready.” This was the time my faith started to slip. This was the first chink in my religious armor.

At this time, I was listening to Atheists on Air with Cash and the Scathing Atheist with Noah, Lucinda and Heath. My husband had turned me on to these podcasts, not to change my religion, but because he knew I would agree with many of the things that they were saying. It was while I was listening to these podcasts that I started to proclaim my faith all over my Facebook page. In January of 2015 we moved back in with “John’s” mom. This time to help her out around the house as this was her first time living alone ever.

March of 2015 I once again found out that I was pregnant. When I was able to get a doctor in May I found out that this pregnancy was developing nicely. I could hear the baby’s heartbeat, feel him moving a little bit (when I concentrated), and he was already further along than his older sibling. I once again dived into my religion. I had been working on my Book of Shadows (my “spell” book) for a few years at this time but it was only in random notebooks and nowhere near the order I wanted them to be in. I worked on my path for a few months then I became engrossed in my pregnancy. Every day I was worried that something was going to go wrong. I stopped working on my path and continued to listen to atheist podcasts. At this time I had listened to every episode of AoA and the Scathing Atheist (along with its sister shows the GAMcast and the Skepticrat), and I was working through the archives of Dogma Debate. (Now I’m completely caught up with these and am working through No Religion Required. I have listened to some newer episodes of Cognitive Dissonance and I plan to listen through their archives when I’m caught up with NRR.)

My son was born 9 weeks early in September of 2015 and after an uneventful 27 day stay in the NICU he came home. During this time I felt myself slowly slipping away from Wicca and I was angry about it. That path made me happy. It made me who I was and I wanted to keep it with me at all times. I was angry with “John” for turning me on to atheist podcasts because I knew that was the problem. I was angry with myself because I let it happen.

Though I was angry I continued to listen to these podcasts because they had become a part of my life. I needed them to feel normal through the day. So I continued to listen to them while I took care of my son. Getting him through his awake all night stage and weaning him from 12 feedings a day to 8 then to 4. Watching as he learned to roll over on his own and is now starting to crawl. I could feel my anger over my religion start to slip away and it scared the hell out of me.

In March of 2016 I made a last ditch effort to hold on to my religion. I dived into working on my BoS once again. I tried to perform rituals in the short times throughout the day that I got to myself. It was all in vain.

In April of 2016 I allowed myself to finally proclaim that I am an atheist. I have not come out to my parents because though I want to be optimistic about my mother’s love for me, I know that when I was Wiccan she hated it. It almost ripped our relationship apart on many occasions. How would she react to me not believing in anything? One day I hope to be able to tell my parents and not worry about the outcome. But for now, I’m happy to finally be free of the chains of religion. To finally have broken out of the religious dogma that has suffocated me for my entire life.

I am me. I am free. I am an atheist. Accept me or leave.

-Nora

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