A video response by the godless to the movie “God’s Not Dead”

The next time I’m asked why I’m motivated to attend seminary as an atheist, I’m just going to play this video.

Why Evolution Is True

In July I posted about Bo Gardiner’s video, “What in God’s name are they doing to the children?”, showing what is clearly child abuse in getting uncomprehending children to be “slain in the spirit” (video embedded in the post). According to Bo, it got picked up by the Dawkins site and then tw**ted by Ricky Gervais, so it’s gotten about 120,000 views.  She now has a new video, at bottom, which makes fun of the new and execrable atheist-bashing movie, “God’s Not Dead“. Checking it out at my favorite movie-rating site, Rotten Tomatoes, I find the biggest disparity ever between critics’ opinions (left) and public opinion (right). That’s the difference between the thoughtful critic and the religious masses:

Screen Shot 2014-09-25 at 4.34.12 PM

How low the mighty Hercules (Kevin Sorbo, who goes around touting the movie in which he stars) has fallen! Anyway, I got an email from Bo about another clip she made, part of which is…

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Anti-Vaxxer Sighting

(See the Anti-Vaccine Body Count for some insight into my staunch pro-vaccine stance.)

Fellow student: “Thank goodness that in Colorado you can turn down vaccinations as a personal choice, and not just because you are part of an organization with overarching by-laws!”

 

The best reason to get vaccinated — now and always — is because there are people with legitimate health problems who cannot be vaccinated and need herd immunity. Help provide it, please.

Feminist Atheist, or Atheist Feminist?

“Atheist” and “feminist” are two identities which don’t get along so well. It’s a shame, because both are unfairly stigmatized, and I think the “a-word” and “f-word” could gain a lot in a collaborative partnership. Which is why I (of course) claim both identities and discuss how both inform my work as a social change agent.

The trickiest thing — at least as far as the low-stakes issues go — is deciding how to present myself. Am I a feminist atheist, or an atheist feminist? The first noun will become the adjective, informed by the core identity of the second, whether or not I would wish it to be.

So is my brand of atheism an explicitly “feminist atheism,” or is my feminism informed by atheism, just as many schools of feminism are molded by an outside source (i.e. ecofeminism, Marxist feminism, Christian feminism, etc.)? I’m not being asked to choose between the two identities, but I am interested in how just changing the order of the words shifts the theoretical foundation in a significant way.

Give the options, I’d have to say that I think feminism reflects my core motivations better than atheism. The reason for this is simple: I could stop thinking, talking, and writing about atheism, and the supernatural would still be a lot of hooey. The ontological argument, while fascinating and important, is not the issue on which social change currently hinges. In contrast, to stop talking about feminist issues would be to surrender to a politically-regressive, theologically-oppressive movement prioritizing the cis-male of the species over the cis-female (and just forget about the trans* people). Giving up on feminism is a tangible step backwards.

Let me put it another way. Richard Dawkins is a rape apologist. I do not mean this pejoratively, even though that’s a pretty rotten thing to be. I mean that anyone who compares being a victim of sexual assault to being a drunk driver has clear, well-defined loyalty to rape culture. There is nothing essentially atheist about Dawkins’ victim-blaming, but there is something essentially misogynistic. If my primary concern was with the ontological argument, I wouldn’t care. But instead, as an embodied female, living in rape culture like a fish lives in water, I simply cannot “do atheism” without the bedrock philosophy that I am deserving of personhood. I demand to be seen as a whole person. If Dawkins feels the need to ‘splain to women how rape culture really isn’t so bad…well, forget him. No one died and made him god.

What is meant by feminism (in this space)? 

For me, feminism is a political philosophy which promotes choice in all things. In a consumer-oriented culture, choice is often reduced to “would you like fries with that,” so let’s specify choices as being related to embodiment.

Far-reaching conclusions can be drawn from this one philosophy: Stop-and-frisk is a feminist issue. Prison abolition is a feminist issue. Marriage equality and trans* liberation are feminist issues. Animal welfare is a feminist issue. Palestine is a feminist issue.

All of these issues are about how our embodiment is perceived and interacts with the world around us. Troy Davis and Trayvon Martin were both executed because of their embodiment. Those deaths are, in addition to being a racial issue and a criminal justice issue, a feminist issue.

I cannot be safe in my own body unless everyone else is also safe in their own bodies. Feminism means all of us or none. This, more than anything else, is the ethical commitment that gets me out of bed in the morning.

Atheism is the arena in which I would like to enact feminism. Atheism without feminism means absolutely nothing. You might as well go out and join the Quiverfull movement.

Whee! Week 2! (And musings on tolerance.)

Here are two statements that are quite different from each other:

Tolerance is not a virtue.

Intolerance is a virtue.

This week, I found myself having to defend against the proposition that the first is equal to the second. It was bizarre, because I wasn’t arguing for or against the validity of either statement, which would have been a far more interesting discussion. Instead, I was forced to clarify that when I said “tolerance is not a virtue,” it was not an underhanded way of saying that “intolerance is a virtue.” The two statements are not at all the same.

Neither tolerance nor intolerance is prima facie virtuous, but the main reason that “tolerance is not a virtue” is not an equivalent claim to “intolerance is a virtue” is because of what tolerance is instead of being a virtue: a baseline expectation to be extended to fellow human beings. Tolerance is patronizing and reminiscent of a parent-child relationship (I’m right, you’re wrong). Tolerance is what you enact when you can’t find it in yourself to accept. Don’t kid yourself — tolerance is as much about exclusion as it is about inclusion.

I tolerate the Westboro Baptist Church because I believe in the Bill of Rights. I deserve neither a cookie nor a gold star, because I don’t believe in the Bill of Rights on the behalf of hate groups. I just accept that the Westboro Baptist Church is a gross side effect of the freedoms of religion, speech, and assembly. In a free country, there are going to be hate groups, and that’s unfortunate.

Intolerance is not a baseline expectation. Intolerance is a result of either of two forces: training (no one is born full of hate), or encountering what should not be tolerated (usually in the form of hatred or violence, but never in the form of a human being).

If you would like to be intolerant, here are five things you can try being intolerant of. In no particular order:

  1. Child abuse
  2. Intimate partner violence
  3. Rape (all)
  4. Police brutality
  5. The anti-vaccination movement (which imperils everyone’s health)

I can think of more — a LOT more — but these are the easiest to defend. (Murder didn’t make the cut because, in a society where George Zimmerman, according to the legal process, did not murder Trayvon Martin, the word has no meaning.)

So, to sum up: If you’re tolerating me, don’t do me any favors. If you’re intolerant of any violation of the inherent worth and dignity of every living creature, good for you.

An Atheist Looks at Systematic Theology

What is Systematic Theology?

Systematic theology is exactly what it sounds like — a system for studying theology. There aren’t many world religions where the holy book or revealed word or whatever comes in neatly organized volumes (although I’d appreciate the pitch, “If you buy all five angelic volumes, you’ll be the proud owner of a year’s supply of Turtle Wax!” because then you’d be getting something out of it). I mean, I’ve studied the book of Ezekiel and I still think it’s describing the floor plan of a sacred delicatessen. Clearly all the relevant content is in other books, hence the need for a system.

Look, you sign up for a program in a seminary, you have to get to know the lingo. I’ve accepted that. I’ve also decided that some of it is useful. Here are some of the areas commonly included in a study of systematic theology, and what I think we can do with them.

Christology

Christology is also just what it sounds like — the study of the nature and person of Jesus of Nazareth.

Jesus was rad. He hung out with all the worst people, helped ’em out, and didn’t hate. Whether or not he was real is a good historical topic. Whether or not he was divine is a different topic altogether, and one that has caused Christian churches to schism more than once in the past two thousand years. Obviously, atheists are in good company (or at least plenty of company) when we doubt this man’s divinity.

Potential for Social Change: Jesus said, “I want you to live abundantly.” (That’s my paraphrase of John 10:10.) That is great advice! Abundant life is NOW, not in a future kingdom, not in an afterlife, not after you have gambled on salvation only to discover that salvation is only in this life. I for one want to have life abundant. I want to provide other people with life abundant. I wish that Trayvon Martin or Troy Davis could have had a chance at life abundant, and I hope you wish the same.

Eschatology

The final events of history — or at least, human history — constitute the topic of eschatology. It is an absolute HOOT that the can’t-wait-for-the-Rapture Christians think they have the market cornered on eschatology. There are plenty of humanist narratives of destruction. Nuclear winter. Global warming. Genocide. We know what to be afraid of. There are also narratives about the real end of time, such as the predicted heat death of the Universe.

“Judgment” is usually wrapped up in eschatology. Ugh, judgment. Judgment appears in the de-conversion stories of many, many atheists. Lots of us had a day when we decided that we haven’t done anything deserving of divine judgment.

Potential for Social Change: I already alluded to it, but let me say it again: Nukes, greenhouse effect, genocide. The world ends every day, for someone. If you’re willing to sit back and accept that, you’re a pathetic excuse for a human being.

Hamartiology

Hamartiology is the study of sin. For Christians, this involves a lot of talk about “original sin” and other nonsense like that. Christian sin is like a weird combination of an STI (transmitted through sex, obviously) and a Ponzi scheme (invest, or be damned!).

Potential for Social Change: Listen, sin is real. 1.) Sin is a metaphor. 2.) Metaphors are structures in our brain. 3.) Our understanding of “sin” is embodied. We can’t intellectualize our way out of this by saying that sin is just an offense against a deity.

Of course sin is not an offense against a deity. There are no deities. Sin is an offense against just relationships between human beings. When people die in the Sonoran Desert because of Operation Gatekeeper, that is sin. When children are deported and sent back to violence, that is sin. When people languish on death row or are slowly tortured to death on a gurney, that is sin. When teens are cast out of their families because they’ve come out as queer, THAT IS SIN.

I am an atheist, and I have no desire to stop talking about sin. If anything, we should talk about sin much, much more.

Pneumatology

Pneumatology is the study of the Christian doctrine of the Holy Spirit (who used to be a Ghost). As an atheist, I find pneumatology to be one of the most frustrating theological subjects. The triune-god doesn’t even make sense to many Christians, so how can you expect it to make sense to atheists? Three can’t be one, because three is three. Three is one and one and one, not just one.

There isn’t supposed to be a hierarchy, and yet, unless your Christian church is Pentecostal, the Holy Spirit is basically ignored, trailing a distant third behind Father and Son.

Potential for Social Change: If we can bring the Holy Spirit back into the Trinity as equal-to and of the same Stuff as Father and Son, we could seriously think about what that equality signifies for human society.

Soteriology 

Soteriology is the study of doctrines of salvation.

Potential for Social Change: I have nothing to add here. I don’t need to be saved from anything. Your princess is in another castle.

Theodicy

Theodicy, or the problem of evil, asks why an omnipotent, omnipresent, all-loving God would let bad things happen. Atheists cut this Gordian knot right down the middle.

Potential for Social Change: I have no trouble admitting that certainly people and acts can be characterized as evil, and I have no trouble admitting that this is a problem. What I see missing from philosophical texts on the problem of evil is a serious consideration of the problems of sexual violence and gender-based violence. I think theodicy looks very different when you prioritize women and gender-variant people.

Science and Social Change

Here is another basic proposition that will inform my writing on this blog: Hard science is a liberating force. While I don’t like the word spirituality at all (if a more poorly defined term exists in the English language, I certainly haven’t heard it), I wouldn’t hesitate to apply the connotations of “spirituality” to science. The worth of my life — the essence of what it is to be human for me — is increased by the Hubble Deep Field. That is the spirituality of hard science.

It is interrelated, but by no means interchangeable, that I approach life as an atheist and that argue atheism is a valid religious view and deserves a seat at the table.

Here are the three reasons why science is liberative.

ONE: Science is anti-authoritarian. Anyone can do it (normal disclosures about kyriarchy apply, but examples like Mary Anning defy the notion that all science has always been solely institutional), anyone has access to the fundamental tools (yes, YOU can use and/or identify variables, controls, and the scientific method), and the final arbiter is evidence, not authority (i.e. the Catholic church eventually had to admit that the planets orbit the sun, ’cause, ya know, they do).

TWO: Science is fundamentally an attempt to better the human condition, and mistakes that have been made in the name of science are not an argument against that goal. The epistemology of science is not malicious. Some scientists have been — and so have members of every other human population. Things get blamed on science that are correctly blamed on racism (Tuskegee), imperialism (the atomic bomb), capitalism (Big Pharma), or sadism (Nazi medical “experiments” — which were not even scientific). I assert that science is fundamentally an attempt to better the human condition because the universe is a complex, dangerous place, and knowledge is power. We should be celebrating that Eve ate the apple; I cheer the fall of ignorance before knowledge.

THREE: Science is not a zero-sum game. I can “win” science without someone else losing. I’ve heard the argument advanced — over and over and over, ad nauseam — that “we shouldn’t send people to Mars when children are starving in Africa,” as if the 0.48% of the federal budget that goes to NASA is genuinely what’s going to make or break world hunger. We know perfectly well that the redistribution of resources from the center-of-empire to the margins-of-empire would have an immediate and lasting effect on the well-being of people in the two-thirds world, whereas a mere tweak of the federal budget makes no guarantee as to the distribution of resources or even regards the amount of knowledge we could potentially lose out on. There never has been, and I doubt there ever will be, a trade-off between spending on sciences and spending on humanities or human welfare.

Whee! Week 1!

I’m done attending classes for the week, so I finally have time to report in and get the blog up to speed. I’m taking four classes this quarter, the third time that I have taken a full load of 14 credits.

Rethinking Diversities: I’m feeling good about this seminar. The first book we’re reading is The Trouble With Diversity, and the professor has warned us about his feeling that the author, Walter Benn Michaels, “gets it almost right” but ultimately fails. I see this professor’s point. This is the same professor from whom I took Postcolonial Globalization in Africa last fall, and is one of two faculty members who uses language inclusive of (non)believers in my presence.

Religion, Space & Place: As much as I want to feel good about this seminar, I haven’t warmed up to it yet. I like the professor well enough, but there are too many people in the class. I don’t think we are going to be able to go much beyond the big names in spatiality, which is disappointing.

Christianity & the Classical Tradition: It’s nice to take a class which attempts to situate Christianity into preexisting intellectual traditions. So often it seems that theology students treat the emergence of Christianity as the beginning of history.

Conflict & Religious Peacebuilding: I’m…less than thrilled. It seems, so far, that pacifist Christians are trying to corner the market on peace, which is weird to me. I do not necessarily understand Christianity to be a “religion of peace.”

Book Review: “Is Christianity Good for the World?” (2008)

I gave this book only two stars on Goodreads, and out of love for the position Christopher Hitchens advances in its pages, I’m driven to explain why.

The book is a debate (…sort of) between Douglas Wilson and Christopher Hitchens over the book’s title question. It’s only sort of a debate because Douglas Wilson is a terrible apologist, not at all a foe worthy of Hitch’s steel. The only sensible thing he says in the entire book is when he concedes that Hitch is his intellectual superior.

Wilson answers the question “is Christianity good for the world” from within Christianity’s own precepts. Because Christianity guarantees salvation, it must be good for the world. Otherwise the world would be damned. So that is why Christianity is good. QED. This is his sole claim about Christianity in every single round of the debate. Carousel horses travel greater distances.

Any atheist worth their salt should be able to use Wilson’s position to drain spaghetti, and Hitch, naturally, does an excellent job in drawing attention to the cardinal points of (non)belief. But where does it get him? You can’t argue with someone who has no argument to advance. Wilson’s parting shot is to essentially say, “Well, your name is Christopher!”

Why, yes! Christopher DOES mean “bearer of Christ!” And?

This is where a year in seminary has gotten me: I’m stunned that we’re even engaging with sub-par apologists. There are heavy-hitters out there. Douglas Wilson isn’t one of them.

The Only Universal Language

Last January, I was innocently sitting in class, minding my own business, when a fellow student — a well-meaning individual with a wife and a baby and a dog — announced that infinity is such a poorly defined and poorly understood idea that it really symbolizes everything truly unknowable and…something something something pray about it. (That’s actually what I heard. Sometimes my ears turn off in self-defense. I imagine the final movement of Shostakovitch’s 5th for a few minutes and then rejoin the conversation.)

Thankfully, infinity is a hot topic these days, and the next time this comes up, I have a YouTube playlist ready.

 

Thank you, John Green, for helping to make set theory so unbelievably popular.