Thursday, November 29, 2007

Monday, November 26, 2007

Serving Size: One Entry

Humans love labels. It allows us to express things in short hand. I don’t say, "Yesterday I saw a domesticated bird of the genus Serinus from the canary islands that was yellow in color." I say, "I saw a canary" and, while you might not know the genus part, will understand what I’m talking about.

We use other labels to try and identify ourselves in short-hand as well. Generally, when we ask someone about their religion, their politics, or their heritage, we’re looking for areas of commonality as well as trying to avoid areas of conflict. If I’m at a dinner party and I know the person I just met is a Republican, I’ll try to avoid talking politics, unless I’m filled with wine and feeling snarky.

Now, based on a one word label, I’ve made all kinds of assumptions about this person. They’re Christian, they’re pro-war, they think Bush is doing a good job, they think abortion should be illegal, they’re homophobic, etc. All or none of which may be true for this individual. Some Republicans, I would assume, are really social liberals, but feel more strongly about being fiscally conservative (you know, back when the Republicans were the party of LESS government…but I digress.) But based on the Republican Party Platform I’ve formed certain, unfavorable, opinions. Most likely, this person hasn’t read the platform. For them, the ideal of Republican means something completely different and when confronted with certain sections of the platform, they may say, "but that’s not what I believe."

Back when I identified as Catholic, someone could assume a lot about me, incorrectly. That I believed the Virgin Mary remained a virgin the rest of her life, that the Pope is infallible, that I don’t use birth control, that I was molested by a priest as a child (oops, my bad), etc. If I were confronted by someone else wanting to argue a point of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, I’d also be forced to say, "but that’s not what I believe." But it is what I was supposed to believe.

Most Christians haven’t read the entire bible. They have in their own minds a definition for Christianity that exists outside of the bible. And if you asked what they believe it would be along the lines of love thy neighbor and being a good person. Because of the fundamentalists and the extremists they’ve had to label themselves liberal or moderate.

I don’t know if any extremist has ever declared herself as such. Sam Harris or Richard Dawkins (I can’t remember which, so forgive me) said there are no moderates only failed fundamentalists. And I can see the appeal in saying so. It gives us a target to debate and it annoys us when people go moving the target by saying, "but that’s not what I believe." Damn it, sit still so I can poke you with my stick of reason!

As an Atheist, Skeptic, Freethinker, Secular Humanist, Anti-theist, and Bright, I sure as hell am not arguing for more labels. Perhaps what we need are less labels, less shorthand, and more dialogue. We shouldn’t accept a one-word answer the question, "who are you, what do you believe?" That might be where Sam Harris was going when he suggested we not self-identify as Atheist.

On the other hand I love the word Atheist. I love the way it feels in my mouth and rolls off the tongue. I admit to loving the in-your-face-ness of the word, because most of the time I’m not really interested in having a dialogue.

I am only human you know.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Tijuana Memories

An Apostate’s Chapel has tagged me with my first meme.

The rules for this meme are pretty simple:

1. Describe your earliest memory for which you can recall at least three distinct details.

2. Estimate your age when this event took place.

3. Tag 5 other bloggers.

I grew up in Chula Vista, California. Chula Vista is now almost a suburb of Tijuana, but when I was there it was a very rural area. We could go down the street and pick our own strawberries. My family would go for hikes in the undeveloped areas and we’d see quail or black widow spiders. My parents were divorced when I was seven, and the house in Chula Vista was sold in the divorce, so this would be in the years before then.

We’d drive to Tijuana for dinner and there wasn’t any border crossing, it was opened when I was young though and my parents would talk about whether we were going to go “that way” which could be quicker or longer depending on the traffic, or “the back way” which, if I remember right, involved taking our VW bug down a dirt road with a stop sign that said “Alto”.

There were two restaurants in Tijuana that we’d go to. One we went to less frequently because it was the “fancier” restaurant. I don’t remember the name, but the dining was in a shaded courtyard with a fountain in the middle that was covered with carnations. I liked that restaurant because the waiter would always give me one of the carnations to take home.

The other restaurant we went to most often. It was a walk along the street (Avenida Revoluci√≥n) with really cool shops, a donkey painted like a zebra, ladies selling giant fake flowers, street-vendors with string-controlled dolls and the clack-clack of the (later to be banned because they shattered) clackers. A sudden turn between the shops and halfway down a flight of stairs took us to Cafe la Especial. They sell the best, greasiest little steamed meat tacos. The place had low ceilings and felt like a cave. The waiters would pinch my cheeks and smile at me. They had carved painted chairs, murals on the walls, and a roving musician who people would pay to make go away to the next table. We’d usually bring home a bag of tacos as well; they were so good cold the next day.

Later years, when crossing back across the border, the “back way” having been closed off I supposed, my mother would admonish me to say I was born in America and only if they ask. I don’t remember but apparently at one crossing when the border patrol asked everyone where they were born I, honestly, proclaimed I was born in Germany, which led to some explaining about my father being stationed in the Army and yes, I was really their daughter.

I still make a pilgrimage to Caf√© la Especial for tacos every time I’m in San Diego.

I’m tagging the following bloggers:


Holy Schmidt

Angels Depart

A Whore in the Temple of Reason

Why Don’t You Blog?

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Peek inside the Total Perspective Vortex

I’m an addict of the science channels. Channels like Discovery, Science, History, and National Geographic probably contributed more to my atheism than anything else. I now have that Carl Sagan wonder about the Universe. My new idols are Neil deGrasse Tyson, Adam Savage and Jaime Hyneman. My husband and I are watching Mars Rising, feeling both hopeful and pessimistic that we’ll be alive long enough to see a manned mission to Mars. All of the engineering and science that is being used to go into this mission will not only benefit the lofty goal of going to Mars, but will provide advances in fields that will benefit humans here on Earth. Every day, these shows inspire me and give me that goosebump feeling of wonder that a good sermon used to.

I do not believe in nothing.

The Universe has endless paths of wonder to explore, from going within the human body, to exploring the sub-atomic level, to expanding outward and exploring the planets and the Universe. All of the science disciplines are roadmaps into these lands where here there be monsters. Scientists are the Lewis and Clark to these wonderful lands. Our guides to amazing jaw-dropping sights that are more strange than we could imagine and even hard for us to wrap our ape-brains around.

I’ve added an image to the top of my blog, stolen from The Bad Astronomer. Images like that, sneak peaks into the Total Perspective Vortex, are all the religious wonder I need.

My "god" is bigger than yours and can kick its ass.

BSG Music Gives me Goosebumps

Thanks to John Evo for telling me about this.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Hollywood and Atheists are to Blame?

A "culture war" in America between religion and atheism is the underlying cause of the war on terror, political commentator Dinesh D'Souza told a crowd of about 150 people Wednesday night at Harris Hall.

…um… no… that would be completely wrong.

I’m not a political science expert (or even a novice) and my education on the subject is formed from watching the Discovery and the History Channel. And I don’t think a topic as involved as Western and Middle Eastern politics could be nicely summed up in a blog post, much less a once sentence sound bite.

But here are some of my opinions as to why there’s a “war on terror”:

In 1953, the United States decided to overthrow the democratically elected prime minister in Iran because we didn’t like him nationalizing the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. In his place we put in a more U.S. friendly monarch, the Shah.

Surprisingly the Iranians weren’t too fond of our puppet leader, or us, and starting listening to an active critic of the Shah and the US; Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. They had a revolution. Since we kept messing in their business, they took the US Embassy hostage. We froze Iranian assets (and have to this day, not released them.)

Saddam Hussein decided to take advantage of the disorder and started the Iran-Iraq War. Iran pushed back and then sought to expand the Iranian Revolution (or Islamic Revolution) into Iraq. The US backed Saddam Hussein (and sold some weapons to Iran as well, what the hey.) Eventually there was a UN mediated truce.

Thanks to our medaling, there is now a government in Iran devoted to eliminating outside influences.

In 1979, as a part of our Cold War strategy, we began having a war by proxy with the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. When we “won” in Afghanistan, we lost interest in the country leaving it’s war ravaged corpse for the warlords to fight over.

Many Muslims from other countries volunteered to assist various mujahideen groups in Afghanistan, and gained significant experience in guerrilla warfare. Organized religious students formed into an armed movement, were backed by Pakistan, funded by the U.S, defeated most of the militias and took control of Afghanistan. “Students” by the way is the English translation of the Pashto word “Taliban”.

One of the mujahideen groups was al-Qaeda, formed by bin Laden. They fought against the Soviets and then Bin Laden went from being a hero of jihad in Saudi Arabia to being an enemy of the Saudi monarchy for his opposition to non-Muslim troops in Saudi Arabia (that would be the U.S. during the first Gulf War.) Bin Laden hates the U.S., socialism, communism, democracy, Israel, and pretty much anything outside of his particular code of Islam (including music.) He believes in an all out war against everything he hates and any innocents that are killed (there’s probably no such thing as an innocent infidel in his book) are justified martyrs in the jihad. I don’t believe we’re responsible for the creation of a monster like Bin Laden, but we are responsible or at least complicit, for creating an environment in which he could thrive.

Oh, and an “Atheist” to Bin Laden would be everyone not his particular brand of Muslim.

In one of the Bin Laden videos, he says,

“It has become clear that the West in general and America in particular have an unspeakable hatred for Islam. We have witnessed the true crimes of those who call themselves humanists and claim to be defenders of freedom. Those who lived under continuous US raids for the past months are aware of it. How many villages have been destroyed and how many millions have been pushed out in the freezing cold? These men, women and children who have been damned and now live under tents in Pakistan, have committed no sin. They are innocent. But on a mere suspicion, the United States has launched this fierce campaign.”

I don’t know about you, but if I’m living in poverty, in a country that’s being ripped apart by war, hearing about villages that are getting bombed by those U.S. devils, I’m going to think this Bin Laden guy is right. And if I live in a country that has a history of the those U.S. devils interfering with my government because they want my country’s oil and they start making air-strikes against my country, I’m not going to think I’m being liberated. The U.S. practically pushes people into terrorist training camps.

This entry has gone on way longer than I expected to and I didn’t even get into our debacle in Iraq. But really it’s all just the same shit in a different country. We mess around in other people’s business, piss people off, kill people, meddle in their governments, destroy people’s lives, and then wonder why nobody likes us. We need to learn to mind our own damn business.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Expanding My Morizons

Taking a break before pursuing the next thousand words in the NaNoWriMo challenge (I’m only 9,336 words behind schedule), I decided I needed to broaden my horizons and start reading some blogs that weren’t specifically atheist. This led me to the 2007 Weblog Awards and the Top 10 Nominations for Religious Blog which let me to Holy Schmidt.

My thanks to the Flying Spaghetti Monster that I didn’t start reading her blog before, because her writing ability makes me feel like a Neanderthal smashing stones together under the mistaken impression I’m actually building something.

Then, as now, I cannot help but feel as though all these scientists hold the veritable key to the universe, and yet they are too busy jostling each other at the gate about whose key is a brighter shade of gold to bother unlocking the dang thing

My carpool partner and I have just finished listening to Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali and started listening to The Places In Between by Rory Stewart. Both are excellent, and both, perhaps intentionally or perhaps not, have me feeling rather anti-Islamic. I feel I need to get a sense of what the followers of Islam, especially voluntary female followers, feel about Islam. I’ll be looking for a few blogs and I’m sure I’ll feel inspired to write about that later. Any recommendations would be appreciated.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Telling People Where to Stick It

Two news stories were brought to my attention this week:
Lab employee, 24, accused of having sex with 92-year-old's corpse and Man who had sex with bike in court.

Humans love getting involved in one another's business. Especially their sexual affairs. We want to know what you're doing, who you're doing, how you’re doing it and how often. And, for some reason perhaps a psychiatrist can explain, we love to make judgments when we get the answers to those questions. Everyone has their own markers on the spectrum between "Healthy Sexuality" and "Weird Yet Harmless Fetish" to "Disgusting Perversion." Religion and society have often engrained within each of us where to put those markers.

Very few have them are on the “Healthy Sexuality” end of the spectrum.

I’d like to put forth the idea that neither case should be weighed based on “sexual morality”. In the case of the man caught having sex with a bicycle, what he does in the privacy of his hotel with his possessions is his business. Do the employees of that hotel feel the need to verify that all shower heads are being used strictly for cleaning? They’d better post a sign in the Laundry room warning not to sit on the washing machines lest people get the wrong idea during the rinse cycle. Don’t you dare slide down that banister!

The case of the lab employee is harder to argue, but I’d say the worst crime he’s committed is violating someone else’s property. The corpse didn’t belong to him. I’d like to think the second worst part of the crime, from the point of view of the 92 year old, was that he’d waited until she died. Personally, if I get to be 92, I’d like a send off from a young male lab tech before I go.

From prostitution to gay marriage to polygamy, we’re consumed as a species with trying to control everyone’s sex life. And to what benefit? Once we’ve agreed that a person has reached the age of consent, they should be allowed to do whatever, however, and with whomever (other consenting adult) they’d like. If you have religious boundaries, you have the religious freedom to stay within those boundaries. You should not have the right wrap those boundaries around the rest of us.

Follow up to Telling People Where to Stick It

Last night while we were walking the dog, I told my friend about my blog entry. He was horrified, disgusted, even angry that I could propose to justify necrophilia.

“But why is it wrong?”

“It’s wrong because IT’S WRONG.” His reaction was so visceral he could not find words to explain his feelings.

“It’s against Nature?” I asked. A disingenuous question, he caught onto it immediately.

“Oh, you can not be comparing necrophilia to homosexuality.’

Some people would.

And my purpose of the blog post, or choosing the shocking subject of necrophilia, is the same as some of my earlier posts.

Why do we believe what we believe?

Most things we believe we’ve never questioned. They’re so much a part of our psyche that even the thought that there could be a question about them causes us discomfort. It’s important for us to examine these beliefs so that they can either be discarded or justified by a more solid foundation.

I’m not on some soap box here to champion necrophilia. I’m mearly challenging myself and others to question why. What about necrophilia is so wrong it should be illegal? Is it the violation of the deceased’s concent? If the person had given their permission pre-mortem for their body to be used for sex after death, would the act be any less repulsive? Less illegal? Is it a health concern? Is there a worry of spreading disease? Is necromania a threat or a sign of some other psychosis that indicates this person is a threat to society? Is the act physically dangerous to the person performing it?

Or is it just that we think it’s gross? Nasty? Shocking? Against nature?

Listening to just a couple of the Dan Savage podcasts, I’m aware that my sexual appetites are mundane. Most things I’ve heard him talk about… well they’re “not my cup of tea”. However, people’s comfort with the act should not be the deciding factor of whether that act should be made criminal.