Noli Timere Messorem: RIP Sir Terry Pratchett

Last spring, I was privileged to hear Islamic scholar Dr. Omid Safi speak on “the Heart of Islam.” He said that one of the things he wished for was that we (humans) learn to extend hospitality to our emotions — that we learn to say, “Hello Grief, my old friend. We will walk together for a while, and then I will say farewell, knowing we will meet again.”

I thought of this today because I was visited by Grief, in a form Grief has not visited in before. I woke up this morning and saw the headline that Sir Terry Pratchett, author of the Discworld novels, had passed away from early onset Alzheimer’s at age 66. Now, I love Discworld, and I love Terry Pratchett, and it’s a tragedy that we won’t be getting another 20 years of literary work from him. On that level, yes, I’m pretty bummed out.

But I hate Alzheimer’s. Alzheimer’s took my grandfather from me in a slow, tragic, painful death. And reading about how Pratchett got lucky — he was at home, in his own bed, with his family and his sleepy cat — made me ache. My grandfather died in hospice and I wasn’t there.

So Grief showed up today. I tried to say, “Hello, my friend,” but it came out, “This mortality shit is for the birds.”

And Grief said, “Yes. Yes, it is.”

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Measles Is Serious (A History Lesson from My Grandmother)

Reblogging this specifically because Colorado has the lowest rate of MMR immunization in the country.

The Science of Mom

Measles is back. The outbreak of this highly contagious viral illness that started at Disneyland in December has spread across the country and shows no signs of slowing. As of February 6, the CDC reported 121 cases in 17 states in this year alone, most linked to Disneyland. In 2014, we had 644 cases of measles in the U.S. This is a striking increase compared to the last 15 years, when we usually saw less than 100 cases in an entire year.

measles 2015 CDCI’m sorry that so many people have been sickened in this outbreak and hope that it is reined in soon. This is no easy task given our mobile society and the fact that we like to congregate in places like Disneyland, schools, doctors’ offices, hospitals, airplanes, and shopping malls. Add to that the pockets of unvaccinated people where measles can easily spread, and we have a recipe…

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By Amy

On “Constructs” and Liberal Orthodoxy

One of the most annoying things about being an undergraduate was dealing with students who hadn’t been introduced to the idea that everything we deal with on a daily basis is a construct (gender identity, language, religion, take your pick).

One of the most annoying things about being a graduate student is dealing with students who have so embraced the idea of constructs that they use it to dismiss any point they don’t like. “Oh, ‘science.’ You know that ‘scientific facts’ are just a ‘construct,’ right?”

Of course it’s a construct, my dear. It’s constructs all the way down. (The picture of turtles all the way down, by the way, was pulled off of an NYTimes blog link that didn’t properly credit it, so I can’t properly credit it, either. If I find out who it belongs to, I promise to update this post with that information.)

Here are some of the constructs that never get called constructs because they conform to liberal orthodoxies:

1.) “Native American people are oppressed.” Well, yes. They are. But what exactly do you mean by “Native American people?” Are you talking about all peoples who were indigenous to the Americas, or just the peoples brutalized by the US government in particular? I’ve found that it’s usually the second of the two. Are you including people who were indigenous to Hawaii, which isn’t part of the Americas even though it’s part of the United States? Are you talking about people who have a stereotypical “Native American” appearance (whatever that might be in their part of the country) and are oppressed because of this, or are you talking about Native Americans who have so thoroughly assimilated that the oppression they face has more to do with how we specifically deny their connection to a cultural identity? How much of a lineage does a person need in order to claim Native American heritage, and why exactly is question offensive when an outsider asks it, even though tribal councils have set quotas?

Don’t get me wrong; I understand that, since I have white privilege, these questions, and the final question in particular, are not for me to ask of an indigenous person and never for me to answer. I’m presenting these elements to illustrate the failures of one of the constructs of liberal orthodoxy, not to attack or belittle a vast collection of peoples with whom I have had very little interaction.

I wouldn’t dare say any of this at school. I’d be eaten alive. This is one of the most beloved constructs out there.

2.) “The Israeli Occupation of the Palestinian Territories is wrong.” Well, yes. It is. But what do you mean by “Israeli?” What do you mean by “Occupation?” What do you mean by “Palestinian?” What do you mean by “wrong?”

Constructs, constructs, constructs, constructs. All the way down.

(Do you want to know why I say it is wrong? I have a very simple approach to Israel/Palestine, which I freely admit is my own construct: I’m on the side of whoever is dying. Not their nation’s side — their side. The people I feel solidarity for are the dead and the soon-to-be dead, because I absolutely do not want to die, and I have no reason to believe they feel otherwise.)

If I were to say this at school, I would almost certainly be assured that the Prince of Peace is on the side of the Palestinians, and I almost just as surely be eaten alive (once again) when I’d reply, “Who the [bleep] is the Prince of Peace?”

3.) “Science is a Western, Eurocentric paradigm. There are other ways of knowing.” Well, yes. Those things are both relatively true. A lot of science has been a project of Eurocentricism, and I know that I love my husband without needing the MRI to prove it.

But here’s the catch: “Western, Eurocentric” really just means exclusive. It doesn’t mean wrong. It doesn’t even mean bad. It means that other boundaries, outside of the project of science itself, have limited some people’s ability to access knowledge, resources, and positions of authority. It means that the image of a “scientist” is still almost exclusively male, because that’s what a “Western, Eurocentric” version of the human is gendered as. Those things are no good. The social structures around science totally suck…just like the social structures around religion, government, business, and every other aspect of the human project.

So what you are doing here, my well-meaning liberal friends, is to reify a vast and complex process known as “science” as a neat little “construct” which you are choosing to feel oppressed by, without considered that “ways of knowing” is equally constructed and equally exclusive.

They’re batty, all of them. Totally batty.

Fish in a Barrel? Nah…

I haven’t been posting much this quarter because I’m a kind and generous person. No, really.

You see, most of my interactions with my classmates this quarter have been over our school’s Canvas message boards. When people post on the boards, I have access to their comments for my entire graduate school career, unless they wise up, go back, and delete the comments.

This thorough documentation and permanent archive makes fisking just too damn easy. It isn’t even like shooting fish in a barrel. It’s like shooting a barrel that happens to already be full of dead fish.

However, now that we’re starting Week 8, the overall situation has gotten to be so ridiculous that I’ve stopped wanting to be a kind and generous person. Instead, I want to go back to being a science teacher so that I can help them understand the basics they’ve gotten wrong.

And then I want to use those to decimate my classmates’ theologies.

So, upcoming: A few posts about common mistakes seminary students make about science, and the real-world consequences thereof. Stay tuned.

Funny* Things People Say to Me

*Funny in the sense of mildly disturbing, not hilarious.

1.) From a classmate in Theological Anthropology: “The promise of Christianity is that if you stop sinning, you’ll become immortal!” I thought that the promise of Christianity was that if you confessed your sins and asked for forgiveness, God would sacrifice someone else.

2.) From a classmate in Intro to the Hebrew Bible: “Hagar got uppity.” Really, dude? You want to interpret Genesis 16, where Sarah whores out her Egyptian slave, Hagar, with the word uppity? Are you out of your goddamn mind?

3.) From a classmate in Ethical Perspectives on War and Peace: “I can keep secrets, so Edward Snowden should have been able to as well.” Lady, if the secrets you are keeping are about the end of meaningful forms of freedom, spill ’em, please.

Tolerance, O Tolerance — An Ode, A Lament

I don’t know if anyone remembers, but early last quarter I became quite agitated about tolerance. Never one to let things go, I insisted on writing a short paper (“short” means under 3,000 words) to justify my in-class comments.


Tolerance and Intolerance: A Paradox

Introduction

Tolerance and intolerance are not the innocent, simple, or one-dimensional terms which they appear to be in current American discourse. Each word has been used, abused, misused, and twisted in the service of radically disparate agendas. It is often frustrating when two sides, each preaching tolerance, accuses the other side of demonstrating intolerance – when, in fact, perhaps neither side, whether tolerant or intolerant, has anything life-affirming to offer. Even the “tolerance” being fought over is not the moral high ground.

While neither tolerance nor intolerance is prima facie virtuous, tolerance and intolerance are by no means equivalent. In different situations, either tolerance or intolerance can be the right choice or at least the lesser of two evils. However, I contend that it is moral cowardice and intellectually dishonest to shrug our shoulders and say[1] “who are we to judge?”

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From “Endgame”

“[A] man who lives alone…one day hears a knock on his door. When he answers, he sees The Tyrant outside, who asks, ‘Will you submit?’ The man says nothing. He steps aside. The Tyrant enters his home. The man serves him for years, until The Tyrant becomes sick from food poisoning and dies. The man  wraps the body, takes it outside, returns to his home, closes the door behind him, and firmly answers, ‘No.’” (Loc. 5874)

Winter Quarter Begins Monday

Introduction to the Hebrew Bible: I feel that I’ve already been “introduced” to the Hebrew Bible, but apparently biblical scholarship is different in HUGE, MEANINGFUL WAYS from four atheist friends sitting around cracking jokes about 2 Kings 2:24. (A common atheist complaint: Christians don’t like our interpretations, so they tell us that we are interpreting it all wrong. But, aside from unalterable, if occasionally inconclusive, historical and scientific facts, there’s no such thing as right or wrong interpretation — it’s all merely interpretation.)

The first assignment for Tuesday? Write about your thoughts on “biblical authority.” I’m already baffled. “Authority over what?” is not the first thought of an atheist-atheist; it is first thought of a “sinners in the hands of an angry God” atheist. The Christians in my life tried to teach me that all authority rested with God. The Bible is therefore not an authority at all.

Ethical Perspectives on War & Peace: I’m mostly dreading this class, even though I love the professor (I had him for Ethical Analysis & Advocacy and for Hispanic Ethics & Theology). I learned to generally fear radical pacifists when I took the nonviolence seminar last spring. Don’t misunderstand — violence is bad. Likewise, war is bad. But let’s not be so naive as to pretend that the ends have never justified the means. Inevitably, a classmate will accuse me of playing God, to which I will almost certainly reply, “What’s your point?”

Shaping Public Policy: Ugh, these ridiculous 2-credit classes I have to take in order to round out my schedule! I’ve campaigned professionally. I understand advocacy. My first love was Howard Dean. That being said, if we get away from Christian supremacy for just a little bit — if we actually explore what it means to live in a secular democracy — my classmates’ heads will implode and it will all be worth it.

Theological Anthropology: Woohoo, the good stuff! This is what I’m talking about! This is why I am bothering to go to graduate school! Who are we, why are we here, what does it mean to be human in North America in the 21st century CE? Plus, I love this professor (Postcolonial Globalization in Africa; Rethinking Diversities).

Liberation Technology

This is a slightly modified version of a paper I wrote last quarter. It was originally written for the class “Religion, Space, and Place,” and the paper was styled to make the argument that the Internet is de facto sacred space (and, therefore, misuses of the Internet are desecration). I just cut out the parts which were me sucking up to the professor.

If you are a techie, the paper is a bit simplistic. If you are an academic, my citation style in this informal paper will drive you nuts (I had the prof’s permission, honest!). If you are a Catholic, you probably shouldn’t be reading an atheist blog to begin with — you’ll just raise your blood pressure. However, I really enjoyed writing this paper, and I think it shows.

I’m putting this paper up on my blog, as the first post of 2015, because I have the phrase “liberation technology” stuck in my head. If I say “liberation” in an American context, I evoke the 2003 invasion of Iraq. That isn’t the kind of liberation I’m talking about. If I say “liberation technology,” I evoke “liberation theology,” and I continue to assert various ways in which my prophetic atheism is an explicitly religious worldview.

Without further ado, I give you: “The Internet: Sacred and Desecrated Space.”


While Millennials aren’t the only Americans to consider the Internet a formative part of their identity, my predisposition to view the Internet as a sacred space is certainly rooted in my outlook as a Millennial. I was one of the first people to grow up on the Internet. It provided me a “‘space’ in which to meaningfully dwell” (Smith, Map is Not Territory, 291).

“Millennial” is generational moniker for people born roughly between 1982 – although anyone born in the 1980s is on the cusp – and the turn of the millennium in 2000. Millennials have a number of identifying characteristics, particularly as pertain to their use of technology and their political opinions about technology-related issues.

Asked an open-ended question about why their generation is “distinctive,” “24% [of Millennials] say it’s because of their use of technology” (Pew, “Millennials,” 5). When asked if Edward Snowden should be prosecuted for revealing the scope of the National Security Agency’s domestic spying, 50% of 18-to-29 year-olds said no, the largest percentage of any segment of the population (Pew, “Public Split”); 60% of the same age group said that the Snowden leaks serve the public interest. And while the American public is nearly unified in in their opposition to a two-tier Internet (this means we are generally in support of net neutrality), 18-to-24 year-olds are the most likely to say they “strongly oppose” a two-tier Internet (University of Delaware).

Karen Armstrong writes that a “holy place…is thus bound up with a people’s sense of self” (Armstrong, 191). It makes sense that this formula would also work in reverse. If we know and understand a group’s sense of self, we should be able to extrapolate what places they find sacred. I do not know if my analysis of the Internet as a sacred space would compel anyone who didn’t grow up with the Internet – either designing it or playing on it – to change their mind and to start to view the Internet as sacred. This perception of sacred space may be restricted to a rarified cohort. But what I can do on the strength of my analysis is demonstrate why the misuses of the Internet are so strongly opposed.

It is because some of us see the Internet as inviolate. It is because some of us know the Internet to be sacred.

Profanation by the telecoms, desecration by oppressive regimes, and the pollution of the wellspring of our culture – of the unrestricted liberty, access, communication, coordination, political power, and human potential of the Internet – will not be tolerated.

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