Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Why Using The “Definitional Atheism” Argument Is Harmful

Let me start by stating that “Atheism isn’t a philosophy, it simply means that we don’t believe in god” isn’t wrong.  It’s accurate on a definitional level (defenders call it “definitional atheism”).  But, I think using it as an argument is harmful for the below two reasons.

When Used to Discredit Fellow Atheists

The first way that using this argument is harmful is when it’s used against fellow atheists.  Atheist A says “Atheists shouldn’t poop in other people’s cereal bowls! Atheism should be against pooping in other people’s cereal bowls!” on the Internet, and it’s almost a given that Atheist B will pop up and say “But, Atheism isn’t a philosophy, it simply means that we don’t believe in god, therefore Atheism can’t be against pooping in other people’s cereal bowls”.  Apologies for the immature example; it usually involves denying women rights or deifying capitalistic greed.  Atheist B, by stating this, is trying to burn down any evolution of what it means to be atheist, what atheism stands for, because apparently they’re incapable of having an actual discussion about the merits, or lack thereof, of “pooping in other people’s cereal bowls”.  Of course, whether consciously or not, this type of well poisoning, this squashing of discourse, results in maintaining the status quo.  If you like the status quo, then defend the status quo.  Explain why you think this “pooping in other people’s cereal bowls” is something that should be maintained.

When Used to Explain Why Some Atheists Do Bad Things

The second way that using this argument is harmful is when it’s used to explain why an Atheist, or group of Atheists, could do something horrible.  Theist says to Atheist A that “Atheism is bad because Atheist B did something horrible”.  If you respond back with the definitional atheism argument, then you’ve just conceded the point to the Theist that Atheists can be horrible.  A much better response is to just flip their statement “Theism is bad because Theist B did something horrible”.  Any group of people of sufficient size is going to have some people that do horrible things, regardless of which group they belong to.  But, any self-respecting group wouldn’t publicize say that the nature of their group is such that they have to accommodate people who do horrible things, because definitions.

If Atheism is to become a respectable descriptor, you staunch definitional atheists need to stop scuttling the ship.  In fact, I think if you do either of the above, I’m going to call you out.

Definitional Atheist – An atheist who whines when somebody tries to attach human decency to Atheism.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

On "Guns don't kill people, killers do."

I think we have all heard the old canard:

"Guns don't kill people, killers* do."

* Or "criminals" or "people" or "I".

It's a bald fact that a gun is just a tool and a tool doesn't do things without a person operating the tool, so that part is true. But, it's also a fact that a gun is a specific kind of tool that is designed to aid killers with killing. Time for a quiz:

Which will result in more dead people?

A. A killer who doesn't have a gun.
B. A killer who has a gun.

And that's why it's immoral to want society to make guns available to anyone. The stock response is:

"But there are so many guns available already and killers will find ways to get guns illegally."

Again, those are facts, even if we add more gun restrictions. But, let's say a new gun regulation only prevents one murder. Do we value life enough to save even one innocent life? I would hope so.

Just think if Adam Lanza's "live free or die" mother couldn't legally have kept guns around the house if her son has developmental issues (I say ban guns in all homes with children). Maybe Adam would have found some guns some other way. Maybe he would have never developed an obsession with guns and murder. Maybe not. We'll never know that "what if". But we do know the the horrific tragedy of what doing nothing did. The blood of those children is on the hands of every person who is blocking progress.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

I'm Not White, I'm Green! What?

Recently, well probably before too, there have been white feminists saying "I'm not white, I'm green!" as some sort of uber thinking on ending racism by fiat within feminism. Only, it's not ending racism, its racist! Let me make a little analogous statement:


I have the solution to sexism within the humanist movement. You see, I'm not male, I'm unisex. All of you people talking about sexism just haven't seen the light I have that there is no sex, there are only people! Please join me in moving beyond gender into an unsexualized future!


See how ridiculous that sounds?  But why? If everybody did just forget about it, our problems would just go away, right?

It seems similar to the "just get rid of marriage" solution to marriage equality, where we can supposedly solve a problem of bigotry by erasing the thing "causing" the bigotry. Only it's not marriage's fault, its the bigots who are against homosexuality. And, it's also the folks who are enabling them by trying to just wash the problem away.

Do you think that a racist cares if you think you're green? Do misogynists care if I think I'm unisex? We have to listen to be able to fight bigotry, not bury ourselves in a bed of privileged mental onanism!

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Being a male feminist, what to do?

Ok, if you're male, like me, and you've discovered that you're a feminist (or that you want real equality for women, if the term which means exactly that makes you feel uncomfortable), what can you do?  Going online and learning what women have to put up is a good start, but how can you make changes?  Here's my 2 cents, or dudesplanation:

Vote and actively campaign for women candidates. Do your homework, I'm not saying vote blindly. Having women in positions of political power is important and you can use your vote and voice to help make that happen.

Don't use any gendered terms when describing a woman or the actions of the women, especially if you disagree. This is obvious, but leave gender out of it (funny how there are a bunch of derogatory female terms, but very, very few male ones). Call other men out when they do it.

Examine your motives for being critical of a woman. Would I react this way if a man did the same? Do I react when a man does this? Why do I need to be critical in this situation?

Before assuming that a women doesn't know something and launching into an elementary explanation, assume the woman already knows what you know. If she wants to know, she'll ask. Women are as smart as men, so assume the woman you're talking to is as smart or smarter than you, if ranking intelligence is your thing.

If you have power over a woman (boss, rank, professionl respect, etc.), don't abuse that power. Power can make people in both positions do things they wouldn't if the power was balanced. Be professional, be boring, just do your job. Use your power for gender equality. Give women the same promotions, raises, bonuses, recognition, recommendations, support that you give men.

Give money to organizations that help women. NARAL, RAINN, Planned Parenthood, YWCA and many others address the needs of women. There are many more that do good work. Buying a pink cap of your favorite sports team is a start, but it's not anywhere close to being philanthropic. Do some homework, give your money to an organization that does the most good.

Don't be apathetic when you see something that is wrong. Speak up. Give your voice as a counter to misogyny.

To conclude, do something to help end gender inequality!

Friday, January 3, 2014

Goddammit Obama

Couple of critiques from a godless liberal:

  1. We have the NSA spying on everybody, but we can't run a online store for health insurance?  Stop spying on Americans and reform the NSA to make the online world more secure and safe. Pardon Manning and Snowden and stand for liberty.
  2. Drones are providing a real, deadly, boogieman to the very folks we need on our side to stop terrorists.  Stop dropping bombs on wedding party caravans.  Murdering a whole family to get a top terrorist is immoral.
Neither of the above two things are good for you politically (right, middle, or left) nor are they good for anyone in real life.  This "Because Safety" is authoritarian argument would be endorsed by Goebbels.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

On Free Birth Control and Access

As things normally go on the twitters, terse language is used to get across a point, often leaving part of the message on the floor. This tends to fish out people who aren't following along, are honestly confused, and/or are just plain ignorant. Unfortunately, real life is more complicated than a single word meaning.

Here's a case where NARAL is describing the "employer exception" to the free birth control mandate of the ACA (before the SCOTUS!) as not providing all women access to birth control, with the seemingly obligatory twitter pedantic soul, this time played by @Cromulentness:
Of course, the word access in NARAL's usage doesn't mean that all women, right now, can't get birth control without the ACA's free birth control mandate. All they need is heath insurance, something that is directly being addressed by the ACA, or enough money in their pocket to see a doctor to get a prescription and then money to get it filled by a pharmacist. So, yea, if we consider the opposite of access in NARAL's statement to mean 100% blocked, their statement isn't correct.

But, of course, that's not the only usage of the word access. To illustrate another usage, lets consider this:

Every wheelchair bound person, regardless of their mayor’ beliefs, should have access 2 #wheelchairramps #HandsOffMyWCR

You mean should get ramps for free, right? They have access."

As part of the ADA (American's with Disabilities Act), buildings must meet certain requirements for them to be accessible. One of these is that ramps of a certain width and grade are required to allow people in wheel chairs to access the building instead of using the stair steps.

Now, here's how the NARAL's use of the word access is similar to how the ADA provides access for the disabled: 1. Nobody is actively stopping them from having access

1a. Couldn't someone in a wheel chair just have paid somebody else to carry them, and their wheel chair, up the stairs? We aren't paying a security guard to push them away from the building.

1b. Couldn't women just pay out of their own pocket for the doctor visit and pill prescription? Her boss isn't stopping her from seeing a doctor/pharmacist.

2. Just don't do it

2a. Couldn't the person in the wheel chair just not use that building? There are other buildings that don't have stairs or have ramps.

2b. Couldn't women just abstain from sex? There are other activities that don't require taking a pill in order to not get pregnant.

3. But they're different, even if they can't control the fact that they're different

3a. Why are we giving free ramps to people in wheelchairs? Walkers don't need that!

3b. Why are we giving free birth control to women? Men don't need that!

And arguments over the usage of the word access isn't even the end of it! What's being debated is whether or not your employer gets to decide if birth control is free or not. That's like your mayor deciding whether or not there is a wheelchair ramp fee in their city. Because of their personal beliefs? It's just horse shit all the way down. Just treat women as though they are your equal for a change!
Yes, yes I do.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Stand Strong For God?

My 3 year old daughter goes to a preschool/daycare that is associated with a moderate-liberal church.  Its not insular, they accept anyone and the children reflect the diversity of the area.  It's one of the few good examples I can see of secular community outreach.  They do include Christian lessons in the curriculum, but it is positive (no original sin or hell).  My daughter loves to learn and sing the songs, something I enjoyed about church.  They had vacation bible school (VBS) for the older kids this summer and my daughter picked up on some of the songs that they brought in for the little ones.  One of the lyrics she sang had something about "standing strong for god".  This was interesting to me and we talked about why it is that god would needs kids to stand for him.  Anyhow, I wondered what the biblical basis was for standing strong for god and sure enough the whole VBS is a program that churches can buy/use, surely the material would make it clear.

Here's the link:

The banner says "Kingdom Rock: Where Kids Stand Strong for God".

They have a nice daily breakdown, so lets have a look.

Day 1:
Bible Point: God’s love 
helps us stand strong.
Bible Verse: "I love you, Lord; 
you are my strength." 
(Psalm 18:1)
Bible Story: David writes about 
God's love. (Psalm 23)
Ok, so god's love gives us strength to stand strong.  This seems a bit circular: God's love helps us stand strong for god.  I suppose god could be using believers as "love to standing strength" transmogrifiers.

Day 2:
Bible Point: Family and friends 
help us stand strong.
Bible Verse: "So encourage 
each other and build each 
other up." (1 Thessalonians 5:11)
Bible Story: Mordecai 
encourages Esther to do 
the right thing. (Esther 1–9)
Actually, this one sounds fine, if you just drop the "for god" implication.  Helping one another is good and, to me at least, as powerful of a drive as food, sex, sleep, etc.

Day 3:
Bible Point: Prayer helps us 
stand strong.
Bible Verse: "Don’t worry about 
anything; instead, pray about 
everything." (Philippians 4:6)
Bible Story: Nehemiah 
perseveres to rebuild the 
wall around Jerusalem. 
(Nehemiah 1–6)
And who are these prayers directed to?  Who answers prayers?  I think that's god again and it just seems silly to pray to god, to ask for strength to stand, when you're supposed to be helping god by providing your own standing strength.

Day 4:
Bible Point: Trusting God 
helps us stand strong.
Bible Verse: "Trust in the Lord 
always, for the Lord God is the 
eternal Rock." (Isaiah 26:4)
Bible Story: Jesus dies 
and comes back to life. 
(Luke 22:39–24:12)
Ok, now I'm just confused.  If god is an eternal rock of strength, why the hell are kids being asked to stand strong for god?  Does god want us to be strong rocks?

Day 5:
Bible Point: The Bible 
helps us stand strong.
Bible Verse: "Your word is a 
lamp to guide my feet and a 
light for my path." (Psalm 119:105)
Bible Story: King Josiah follows 
God’s way. (2 Kings 22:1–23:23)

It just wouldn't be VBS without an affirmation of biblical authority.  Because what would the bible be if it didn't say in there that it's the word of god.

Of course it's ridiculous to take what Christians say at face value without understanding the subtext.  One subtext of this is that they know these kids are growing up in the Information Age, where they are going to be exposed to criticism of their beliefs.  They aren't standing strong for god, they're being asked to stand strong for their parent's and pastor's beliefs.  How about we teach these kids to stand strong for themselves, stand strong for their fellow humans, stand strong for their own morals?  God doesn't need their strength, they do.