Friday, July 20, 2012

Reverse birthday party

I was reading a post today over at Black Skeptics where the topic was the death of a friend-- and atheist-- of writer Sikivu Hutchinson. I think funerals naturally draw people toward thinking about their own deaths and what their own funerals ought to be like. As in the case of this man, there was no choice available in the matter, as his friends and family proceeded with a Catholic ceremony in a church. My own family is ostensibly Buddhist with a few Catholics sprinkled around, and so far every family funeral I've attended has been largely Buddhist in nature, so I think I know what to expect if I don't specify otherwise (and I will, by the way).

So here's a good question. It's been asked and answered before but let me provide my own take on it: should atheists have funerals? I mean why bother? The standard answer is that funerals are not for the deceased, but for those they've left behind, because everyone needs a sense of closure and a chance to say goodbye.

Except funerals are for the deceased, just not while they're deceased. Your funeral is your final hurrah, your last and only reverse birthday party, and I think the living take some comfort in knowing that they'll have one eventually, especially if they've had the foresight to plan for it.

But it's most important to soldiers, policemen and firefighters, who risk their lives as a part of their profession. Even if they don't believe in an afterlife, knowing that a grand display awaits them in death reminds them of why they do what they do and who they're fighting for. It isn't even necessarily a matter of the funeral itself, but the ceremony is one component in a greater zeitgeist of admiration and respect for the lives lived.

What's my funeral gonna be like? Well, if I get my way, I'll be disposed of in the most economical and environmentally friendly way possible, and there won't be any Buddhist monks chanting for six hours straight, that's for damn sure (An impressive feat, but ultimately useless. Kind of like carrying a cross 1500 miles). And I would most likely have a statement prepared stating my final existential musings, the things that I couldn't speak to everyone more plainly about while I was alive (Hey, I'm dead. I can say whatever the fuck I want.). I'm pretty sure this is the route most academic atheists will take so in that sense I'm a bore. Well you know what? It's my reverse birthday party, and as long as it's not a surprise party, I'm happy as a clam.

A naturalist's view of a massacre

Inevitably following a massacre people start talking about gun control, but I'm going to move away from that and toward something far more pertinent but rarely spoken of. When you have a naturalist's world view, you can see these things for what they really are, which is mental illness. People forget that your mind and personality comes from a biological organ, and it is susceptible to disease and failure just like the rest of the body. When you see the mind-- the soul, perhaps-- as an ethereal entity piloting a machine, you conclude that a mass killer is evil when he's really just sick. Sick people can't be reasoned with, and they need to be taken care of before these kinds of things will happen. The signs of sociopathy and psychopathy must be detected early, especially when they're children, lest we think of them as having simple personality defects to be grown out of in time.

The latest I've heard is that the mother of the killer knew right away that the perpetrator was her own son. I'm willing to bet she knew he had problems for a long time, but again, society doesn't take these things seriously because society has the completely wrong view of why these things happen. Let's recognize the facts: there is no soul, we are at the mercy of our brains, and sometimes our brains get sick. Let's do it right, and put one person in a hospital instead of a dozen in the morgue.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

OMG Zimmerman

wtf is wrong with you, Zim?

George Zimmerman has revealed to Sean Hannity that he believes that Trayvon Martin's death was part of God's plan. As an atheist I was quick to jump onto this and declare another example of a religious evil, but I'm going to wait on that. People aren't always so stupid, and I remember the national letting out a collective groan after Michael "Dog Fighter" Vick declared he had found Jesus following his prosecution. So I can't declare this a religious evil over an opportunistic play for sympathy until I see a sizable population gullible or religion-rotted enough to believe in this new revelation.

Let me be clear, I was actually sympathetic to Zimmerman before this. I don't think he intended to kill anyone, but he presented an unknown threat to an innocent person, and that innocent person chose to fight back, and with potentially deadly force. He responded with assured lethality.

But now, Zim? Are you crazy or are you just an asshole?

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The future of gay people will be determined by black people

Much has been made about the connection between black and gay civil rights, and the tendency for some parts of the former to deny any such connection, to the disappointment of progressives. David Weigel discussed the divide yesterday in this piece for Slate.

The principle difference argued by anti-gay blacks is that homosexuals chose to be homosexual, whereas no one can choose to be black. If you find yourself arguing with these people and try to directly counter the assertion, you're making a mistake, for the nature/nurture debate only skims the surface of a much deeper issue, which is that of personal liberty. It doesn't matter if homosexuality is chosen or if it is inborn, it is a personal liberty that no one has any valid reason to deny.

Getting to the heart of the matter is important. It makes the picture clearer for everyone, and makes it clear you know exactly what you're talking about. (The opposite example is a creationist who attacks every possible detail of evolutionary theory without a connecting fiber in any of his arguments.) For this particular case, you'll then be able to skip past sticky discussions of race and other traits you are born with and talk about why homosexuality is or isn't a personal liberty. As I've said before, there is no logical basis for their religiously or culturally motivated bigotry, and they will lose that argument every time.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Cack-Man cometh

Well, this is disappointing. Manny Pacquiao, world boxing champion, congressman, and humanitarian, is not so humane when it comes to LGBT rights. From the article:
Pacquiao, bearing a conservative stance on the Reproductive Bill which is still pending in the Philippine Congress for approval even after contemptuous debates, believes the sweeping campaign of Obama favoring the gays and lesbians to legally marry is nothing more than a direct attack on the moral society and against the creative power and will of God.
Pacquiao's position as both a lawmaker and an asshole shows why church/state separation is important. A friend of mine, a Mormon, once told me she supports her church in its stance against gay marriage, but she did not support her church's support of Proposition 8, which made gay marriages illegal in California. "If you're gay and you want to get married, don't be Mormon," she said. I wholeheartedly agree. That is exactly the position that theists should have regarding personal liberties such as these, because it is not for them to legislate their moral code to everyone else, unless they can prove that they have a secular, logical basis for their objection. The successful appeal against Prop 8 last year showed in a court of law that there is no secular or logical argument that can be made.

Atheist fan(atic)s

Last weekend I got into a conversation with my brother about religion. He has a BS in anthropology so this topic comes naturally to him, and though we see eye to eye on many criticisms of religion, as an agnostic, he doesn't really throw in with our lot of self-proclaimed heathen atheists. As is predictable to experienced "active" atheists, this phrase came up:
Some atheists are just as fanatical as the religious.
A day later, Rabbi Dow Marmur wrote in the Toronto Star
...impartial observers will know that contemporary atheists are often even more fanatical than religious fundamentalists
You know what? They're right. Some atheists are indeed crazy. Some atheists are stupid. And some atheists are just atheists by default, not because they've given it any thought (also like many of the religious). All this goes into the larger narrative of painting atheism as another religion, which is ridiculous.

There's a wealth of material from Marmur's title alone: "Zealous atheists resemble religious fanatics." My first thought was what a stupid title that was, like saying "really passionate people resemble other really passionate people." But then I read it again and thought, do the zealous atheists of the world really compare to the religious fanatics of the world?

Your answer is no. Emphatically. Find me an atheist suicide bomber. Find me an atheist trying to get the government to limit the rights of other human beings because they're different from him. Find me an atheist that will knowingly allow pedophiles to violate and denigrate the health and safety of helpless children.

I suppose if you really try, you will undoubtedly find some sick, murderous individuals who happen to be atheists. The difference is that such are examples of individuals. The inhumanity of religions are institutional, training good people to be bad, inculcating generations to believe in nonsense and affecting the world with that nonsense.

But there was still more controversy brewing on Mothers' Day weekend. On Sunday, Deepak Chopra Tweeted the following:
#Atheism is a cult with a small following.
Oh we're a cult, are we? A cult, you mean those institutions run by batshit loonies who tell their flock to shun their friends and loved ones who are not part of their faith, and encourage people to donate everything they have? The ones that threaten hellfire and physical, financial and social abuse if anyone tries to leave? You're insane, Deepak.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Game of Thrones

I'm hotly awaiting the return of Game of Thrones to HBO on April 1st. Fittingly, I'll be watching a full-contact jousting tournament in Austin that afternoon, and in accordance with this blog, also be visiting the Atheist Experience postshow dinner at El Arroyo. Now what does Game of Thrones and atheism have to do with each other?

One of the things I like most about GoT is that most of the show is akin to watching a historical drama. Literal and political warfare are waged as multiple parties vie for power and prestige. But just like real life, the few powerful settle their differences of honor and personal failings with the lives of those who serve them. Again, I enjoy the faux historical nature of the show, but this aspect gives me pause. This is exactly the problem with communism, fascism, nationalism, and religion: the petty whims of a select few may affect the lives of billions.

The real world is pretty messed up, but I thank the imaginary god that things are better than they used to be. Gone are the days of ultra nationalism, and the power of the Catholic church has waned. These are just some of the attitudes and institutions that have made it possible to get individuals to forget themselves and to move mobs to madness. But obviously there's still a lot of work to do. We still have theocratic states in the Middle East and there are elements in the United States trying to establish a similarly styled form of government, albeit for a god who answers to a different name.

If you haven't seen the show, please do so, especially if you aren't into democracy or secular governments. It'll turn you around, if you pay attention.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Posthumous Postjewish

In closing my introductory post I mentioned that I would discuss American politics and the accidental suppression of the theocratic state, but then news of the Mormon posthumous baptism of Daniel Pearl came to light this morning, and I thought I would hit on that topic instead.

Ah, Jews. Thanks to the Mormons, more powerful in death than life, the very Jedi of the religious wars. These issues, of course, have come up before, and when they did, the Mormon church backed down at the protests of Jewish advocates. Now, the practice seems to continue against official church doctrine, and LDS representatives scramble to control the damage. Meanwhile, a website has popped up to help anyone with an internet connection to "homofy" dead Mormons. Sadly, the creators stipulated that dead Jews were not eligible to be homofied, and I cry foul on that.

The tide seems to be against the Mormons on this issue, but I, for one, stand with the Mormons' right to practice their useless rituals. And the Jews are being stupid for bothering to complain. I'm sure that everyone understands that if Jewish souls can be turned Mormon-- then living Jews should be converting in droves. But obviously they are not, so it seems to be an issue of respect. Is it disrespectful to baptize dead Jews? Well yes, of course it is. But if they think they're saving souls from hell then the occasional metaphysical faux paus probably isn't at the top of the Mormons' list of concerns. Furthermore, if this information didn't keep getting leaked out, then no Jew would know about it, and they would never know about it because it doesn't do anything. Respect is a moot point.

Unless, that is, Jews believe in the mutual inclusivity of some or all religions. I guess I would feel pretty spooked too if I felt a disturbance in the Force every time my dead uncles flipped to the dark side.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012


So when they were handing out jobs, I somehow drew "atheist blogger." I said, "What the fuck is this?"
"AA," the woman in the window tersely replied.
"Asian Atheist?" I asked, slightly offended.
"Affirmative Action."
I guess that's good enough for me.

Yes, it's true, I look a little different from my peers in the local freethought groups (which include Backyard Skeptics--yes, that's right, the Orange County group that futzed up the Thomas Jefferson billboard). Thankfully, such groups are made up primarily of mere old white dudes, instead of cranky old white dudes yelling at me to get off their lawns. PZ Myers, speaking of the Freethought Blogs network, explained:
It was my very first demand when Ed Brayton proposed building this network: that we make a special effort to bring in good bloggers who weren’t old white dudes like us.
So here I am, throwing my hat into the blogosphere (it's a fedora). What kind of atheist am I? Well I'm probably shooting myself by saying this but most of you are probably going to consider me a concern troll. Atheists critiquing religion are a dime a dozen. This is not to say that we don't have a good record of critiquing ourselves--we do--I'm simply the type that's harsher on his own team than the other team, and there are many things we can do to improve the efficacy of the movement. More on that later.

I'll close this post with a few tidbits about myself. I'm 29 and I have a BS in molecular biology. I'm currently somewhat of an engineer working in medical devices. Except for some minimal instruction in the Old Testament as a child, I've pretty much always been an atheist, but didn't become an ostensible angry atheist until about 2005, when I followed the proceedings of the Dover trial (where Ken Miller essentially kicked the shit out of Intelligent Design). Today I watch YouTube--pardon the phrase--religiously to get my daily fill of the most recent goings-on, and the occasional dumbasses harming themselves in the most inglorious ways. I do have one video up of myself making some comments about moderate voices in the debate, but in general I hesitate to do such things, primarily because I'm so averse to combing my hair after normal working hours.

Well, that's all for now. Next time we'll talk about American politics and the accidental suppression of the evangelical state. Cheers