Monday, December 31, 2007

Please pass the Burka

As I contemplate the weighty consequences of holiday food-binging, I think how much I’d really like to hide it all under a Burka for at least a month. By the end of a Weight Watchers followed month, I could imerge again like a svelt butterfly from her cocoon. Danielle Crittenden of The Huffington Post wrote a four part series Islamic Like Me where
she wore a burka for a week during her daily life in Washington, D.C.
Actually, as many pointed out in the comments, she wasn’t actually wearing a burka but an abaya and a niqab, but the function was the same. She wandered around D.C. doing her shopping, riding on the subway, even bought a one-way ticket to New York that she had no intention of using, just so she could go through airport security. Everywhere she went, she was surprised by the lack of hostility she experienced. People went out of their way to either act indiferent to her or interested in speaking with her about “her culture”. However her final conclusion, really it was her viewpoint all along, was that such clothing was a symbol, much like the uniform of the Klan, and should be banned for what it symbolises.

I have a problem with banning symbols. I have a problem with office dress codes too, mainly because it involves forcing me to wear pantyhose which is way more torture in Arizona than a Burka. Workplace rules aside, forcing people to dress a certain way, or preventing them from dressing a certain way, all boils down to someone taking control over another. If I were in control, I’d like ban flip-flops. I don’t want to see your ugly feet and hear that fthp-fthp every where you go. I’m sure you don’t want to see me sweeze my fat-ass into a leather skirt and watch my belly jiggle over the waistband. While I have the fashion-sense not to, I still have the right. And you have the right to wear your flip-flops to the grocery store.

Is that a Twisted Sister Pin on your uniform?

Which is more important? Freedom of expression or freedom from oppression. Can we preserve both? Is it possible to protect the rights of those who want to wear the niquab while at the same time protecting the rights of those who don’t? Do we ban such attire in schools? How do we on one hand tell a child that this is the land of religious freedom while on the other tell her she can’t wear the headscarf? A girl in Canada was strangled to death by her father because she didn’t want to wear the hijab. Would she have been safe if there were a dress policy at her school that would have banned such covering? Or would that have given her father just another reason to pull her out of school? Maybe the answer is letting children wear the headscarf to school, while stressing to them that while they’re at school they can take it off or leave it on, it’s completely their decision.

Women in favor of the hijab have argued:
In the Western world, the hijab has come to symbolize either forced silence or radical, unconscionable militancy. Actually, its neither. It is simply a woman's assertion that judgment of her physical person is to play no role whatsoever in social interaction.

In Islam, a woman is free to be who she is inside, and immune from being portrayed as sex symbol and lusted after.
The second concept unfortunately leads a lot of Muslim men to believe that those who don’t cover do want to be treated as sex symbols giving them the license to harrass or rape (after all men can’t control their sexual desires, oh no). And since they don’t want a whore for a wife or daughter, they force them to cover.

Banning the symbol doesn’t erase the underlying philosophy. Women who wear the hijab, whether by choice or not, are visable. We can speak with them, ask them, “do you wear that because you want to?” Girls in school can be given a little extra instruction about rights and equality. It’s far better to have these strangely dressed females out in the world where they can be exposed to ideas than hidden away. Even if that idea is that she is wearing the hijab because she wants to and is proud of it.

Now excuse me while I go find a mu’umu’u.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Looking into the Islamsphere

The Brass Cresent Awards are out. Which will be giving me fodder for blessays for a good while I believe. I've been reading Sunni Sister for a couple months now and just started commenting. I hoping I'm opening up honest dialogue and not just giving offensive rants (it's always hard to keep that knee-jerk monster in check.)

After two days of reading, I'm already a fan of Ali Eteraz's writing (and his bio-photo is rather hot too). His writing is so selfaware of the believer mindset that you just want to push him over the edge, "Come to the atheist dark side, we have cookies."

The answer is because a devout believer needs to take his faith along in everything he does. If he didn't, he wouldn't be devout (at least so he thinks). The Islam and democracy presenter had to know - and had to let everyone else know - that he was a democrat because of his religion, not in spite of it. This is the "piety" part of religiosity that a secular humanist or atheist neither acknowledges, nor finds particularly interesting. The more confrontational might even call it a handicap, a crutch, or a sickness.

My carpool partner, who is a practicing Wiccan, and I are considering taking a Qur’an class. Her main worry when I suggested it was, "Are you going to be nice or snarky?" I'm very snarky in the car during our discussions, but I assured her that I would keep my snarkiness restrained and let whoever is teaching the class to present me with their Islam and not my poisoned opinion. Though I'm hoping we can find a class that's geared towards non-Muslims looking for information rather than already practicing or wanting to convert students.

I'd like to point out that I'm always very respectful of her hippy-dancing-naked-around-in-the-moonlight-with-other-pasty-white-WOW-players beliefs. (OK, as far as I know they always remain clothed - though I wouldn't if I were them.) This goes back to my earlier blessay regarding letting people create their own definitions of what their religion is rather than pushing on them, "This is what YOUR book says YOU should believe and I'm going to rub your nose in it." As usual, it's very difficult to resist lumping people together under a tidy label, mainly because it's so difficult to take pot-shots when they're all scattered about.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

It was Cephalopodmas...

This poem should be required reading on the holiday (I'm hoping for a pop-up illustrated book next year). Though Cephalopodmas is rather more than a mouthfull than Squidmas, I guess it is more inclusive.

I had oceans of help—why, in every time zone
There were octopi, cuttlefish, nautilus too
And squid by the thousands who knew what do do.

And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger...

Even if someone could convince me that a god exists, they’d be further burdened with proving to me why he isn’t a complete fucker.

How’s that for a Christmas sentiment?

My husband and I took a trip out of town and spent Saturday and Sunday night in the camping cabins at Roper Lake. The cabins are spare, but heated, so we were comfortable in the cold with our hot cocoa and warm wine. We watched the moon come up and tried photographing it. I think we mislabeled Venus as Mars and further botched our meager astronomy, but we’re now resolved to actually learn some astronomy this year and maybe next year’s Squidmas will deliver a telescope to us. Satchmo, the most spoiled dog on the planet, played in the snow on Mt. Graham wonderfully oblivious to the fact that he was playing in frozen water (water being his nemesis.)

So why am I so bitter this Christmas morning? The town of Bylas, Arizona. If I were the Canine Goddess, the down of Bylas would be smoted. We had to drive through this dust pit to get to Roper Lake. It’s an ugly, poor desert town with only a rest area and market/gas station giving you any reason to stop. The view isn’t improved on closer inspection, but it would be if they would straighten the road so you could drive through it at top speed with your eyes closed. It was at this rest stop that I saw the dog.

This poor animal was the most pitiful thing I’d ever laid eyes on. As Satchmo was contendly peeing on every bush by the restrooms, I witnissed this sad dog walking sluggishly along the road. It’s head and tail were down. It plodded slowly, it’s body covered in dirt, it’s eyes without sparkle. It didn’t react when a truck breezed by it and stopped behind it, the truck’s occupants oblivious to the dog and heading toward the house along the road behind it. It broke my heart and I pointed him out to my husband who watched him while I used the restroom.

By the time I’d gotten out, the dog had crossed the road. Knowing my desire to rescue animals, usually when it was completely impractical to do so, my husband told me to just close my eyes and we’d pass him because there was nothing we could do. I, of course, couldn’t not look and as we pulled onto the road I saw him standing listlessly by the road.

“Oh, god, he’s standing next to a dead dog,” I cried and my husband pulled the car over.

We got out and I grabbed up a handfull of dog treats. We walked over to the dog but he wouldn’t respond to us, instead he walked away from us, over the railroad tracks. My husband checked out the dead dog, it looked to me like a young pit-bull six or seven months old. We watched the sad dog moving away from us. I couldn’t help but think that dog too was dead in a way. He was moving, but didn’t have any life. I left the cookies by the path he had taken, thinking it was one he traveled frequently when scavagening at the rest area and gas station.

Two days later, on our return through Bylas, we looked for but didn’t see the sad dog. The body of the dead dog was still there on the side of the road, opposite from the rest area and gas station. I have no sympathy for the impoverished residents of Bylas. I’m sure I lack the understanding of the hopelessness that comes with poverty. Or maybe I just lack the caring. While my heart will break for an animal in distress, it doesn’t for the humans. Humans have the ability to do something about their lives, whether or not they have the will. Everywhere in Bylas I saw people standing around doing nothing, yards filled with trash. The ignored canine corpse left rotting on the side of the road epitomizes the spirit of this town. The Canine Goddess would deliver this Chrismas morning a wrath of cleansing destruction to the blight that is Bylas.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Rakhat Rising

The third book to be discussed by the Nonbelieving Literati is The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell.

When human beings are faced with certain transcendent experiences, we seem to instinctually jump to a language that is spiritual or supernatural to explain it. We reach a point that surpasses our limits of experience and instinctively reach to define the void beyond. Some will call it God, assigning intellect and purpose where there is none. For me that point beyond ourselves, that brink of space between what we know and the potential of what lays outside has no name, no purpose, no reason. All I’m left with are feelings that I lack words to adequately describe. Small words like ‘awe’ or ‘hope’ are merely the click of a pebble bouncing down the sides of well it can’t possibly fill. I have a euphoric feeling of standing at the edge of the abyss about to take flight. I get these feelings when contemplating the potential future of space exploration, such as the documentary series Mars Rising. For the religious, these are the feelings they get when contemplating the nature of god and his purpose for creation. To-may-to -– to-mah-to. What does it matter how we classify this experience?

In the case of The Sparrow, the difference in classification could be compared almost to erotomania. The characters, faced with the transcendent, songs from another world, are swept into believing their experiences were God’s will. Driven by Father Emilio Sandoz, they rapidly go from finding an alien transmission from Alpha Centauri to being part of a Jesuit missionary team traveling and making contact with them. Father Emilio:
went sleepless, unable to decide which was harder to live with: the idea that he had started all this, or the possibility that God had. The only way he could reassure himself during these midnight debates was to believe that wiser heads than his were making the decisions. If he could not put his faith directly in God, who remained unknowable, he could place it in the structure of the Society and in his superiors.
He starts the endeavor, driving it forward, and then counts on the will of God or the Jesuits when it spirals out of his hands. Even the supposedly agnostic members of the group fall prey to his contagious belief.

In the beginning their mission seems divinely driven. Impossible obstacles are easily overcome. As one character comments,
Kinda Spooky, ain’t it. Hell of a lot of coincidences. Like we say back home, when you find a turtle settin’ on top of a fencepost, you can be pretty damn sure he didn’t get there on his own.
Members of the group look to Father Emilio and see the beginnings of a literal saint. Yet reality and misunderstandings of this alien world take their toll as all but one of the naive missionaries are killed, their leaving only Father Emilio alive, damaged and gang raped and a massacre of alien tribes corrupted by concepts brought with the missionaries. Deluded into thinking that they were part of a divine plan, they falsely operated under the assumption that each step they made was blessed and guided. Instead of smallpox, the Sparrow missionaries brought vegetable gardens. As with previous missions on Earth, indigenous beings are often destroyed by unintended and unimagined consequences.

After returning to Earth, Father Emilio explains to Jesuit Inquiry,
The problem with atheism, I find, under these circumstances is that I have no one to despise by myself. If, however, I choose to believe that God is vicious, then at least I have the solace of hating God.
The author, Russell, uses the Bible verse Mathew 10:29,
Not one sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it
as inspiration for the book’s title. The entire story could be summed up from her perspective, as another character responds in the book,
But the sparrow still falls.

From my perspective, thinking of a future mission to Mars, I’m glad we are being guided by science and reason rather than religion. There will still most certainly be unintended and unimagined consequences, possibly even horrible catastrophic ones, but at least we will be going in with eyes wide open and in search of the truth. The sparrows that go to Mars may still fall, but at least they’ll be educated, trained, and prepared sparrows.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Shame on you Trent Franks

I wanted to write a thank you to the nine house representatives who voted NO to House Resolution 847 to "Recognize the importance of Christmas and the Christian faith" but they have blockers so that only their constituents can send emails. Then nine who I'd like to thank are:

Gary Ackerman (D-NY)
Yvette Clarke (D-NY)
Diana DeGette (D-CO)
Alcee Hastings (D-FL)
Barbara Lee (D-CA)
Jim McDermott (D-WA)
Bobby Scott (D-VA)
Lynn Woolsey (D-CA)
Pete Stark (D-CA)

Please write your representative and let them know how you feel about this vote.

As The Exterminator points out:

the House has now formalized, in whatever small way, four very scary ideas.
They're not stated explicitly, but implied, although the meanings are clear nonetheless. In the following list, the numbers correspond to the highlighted portions of the document that support each idea. (The highlighting and numbering are mine.)
Idea 1:
America is a Christian nation: 1, 2, 3, 5
Idea 2:
America was founded as a Christian nation: 3, 5
Idea 3:
Christians in America are being assailed by secularists and need support: 4, 6
Idea 4:
The United States has a mission to defend worldwide Christianity against its enemies: 2, 6, 7

So borrowing from his bullet points I've written the following to Trent Franks (R-AZ) who voted Yes:

Shame on you for voting for House Resolution 847 to “Recognize the importance of Christmas and the Christian faith.” I am not a Christian. I do not believe in the supernatural. And while I enjoy any holiday that gives me a paid day off from work accompanied by rich food and festive lighting, I don’t enjoy the constant threat against reason from superstition. The separation between Church and State is growing ever thinner and I’m saddened that you were not one of the nine representatives willing to stand up to enforce that line. America is not a Christian nation, it was not founded as a Christian nation, Christians are not being assailed by secularists -- if anything it’s the non-Christians that are being assailed -- and the United States should not be on a mission to defend worldwide Christianity against its enemies.

Only nine were willing to stand up and say “No” to theocracy. You weren’t one of them. Shame on you.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Looking for That A-Ha Moment

The Chaplain over at An Apostate’s Chapel wrote an excellent blessay (to steal the phrase from Stephen Fry) over her Stages of Grief over the loss of her faith. The Exterminator then commented

I’m always struck with the fact that there must have been an aha! moment, an unexpected insight, a sudden flash, that undermines their entire worldview

I was going to just comment, but decided I had enough content to fill my own blessay about a-ha moments. And, for me, I don’t think there was just one. Each was a nudge in a direction that led the next nudge to have greater weight. I’m sure I don’t remember them all, maybe not even the most significant ones, but there are three that do stand out:

1) An NPR interview with an amateur EVP “ghost hunter” who when asked if he was afraid, when hunting graveyards at night for voices, of what he would find replied, “I’m more afraid of what I’m not finding.” He was apparently a very honest, ethical ghost hunter who was disturbed not to be finding any voices from the other side.

2) My husband, who has a phobia about shaking hands with strangers, wouldn’t go to church with me because of this (or so he claims). I wanted to have a more “spiritual marriage” and, because I felt he wasn’t enough of a believer, went looking for things that would convince him to become one. This led to some very stimulating discussions that didn’t have the effect either of us were looking for.

3) A Discovery Channel (or similar) program regarding Jesus or the History of the Bible made on off-hand comment that there was controversy over the historicity of Jesus. It wasn’t the main topic of the show, it was one comment, an aside, one sentence – but to me it stood out like neon. I could say that it was the sudden flash The Exterminator was talking about, but if it hadn’t been for the earlier nudges, I probably wouldn’t have even noticed it.

I looked through my journal. 2005 seemed to be the year that I tried harder to be more religious but I notice certain things now that may have been nudging me towards atheism. 2006 was the final slide.

George W. Bush and the “Moral Majority”. Looking through my journal I have many, many rants about him and them and Christianity and how their Jesus isn’t my Jesus.

January 2005 – took Introduction to Contemplative Prayer, my attempt to increase my relationship with god. I didn’t work very hard at it, but was non-the-less disappointed at my lack of having an immediate Teresa of Avila experience.

The Fresco by Sheri Tepper, in which an Alien species’ moral-ethical religion is centered upon a sacred fresco that is covered in soot (so no-one can actually see the fresco, but they have stories of what it depicts). Tradition dictates the events and symbols that lie hidden beneath the grime, and it is taboo to ever clean the Fresco (Publishers Weekly). And then someone accidentally does clean part of it and finds it to be contradictory to the traditional teaching.

Read Kushiel's Dart by Jacqueline Carey. An alternate world where the French, a country known as Terre D'Ange, are descended from divine beings, beings that loosely mirror Jesus and his apostles. The main character is a masochistic courtesan, which in this alternate world is a sacred calling, and a spy.

June 2005 – Attended one meeting with a Charismatic Catholic prayer group. I tried very hard not to get the heebie-geebies from them and left feeling that I couldn’t delude myself enough to get whatever they were getting.

July 2005 – My uncle found Our Lady of Souplantation

He tried to get it on the news and create our own hysteria, but I guess there was too much real news going on that week. It’s the Souplantation on Mission Gorge Road in San Diego if you wish to make a pilgrimage.

March 2006 – Went to a neighbor’s baby shower. Most of the people there were from her Lutheran Church. They handed out blank bookmarks and while the girl was opening her presents, we were supposed to come up with words of wisdom for the new parents and put them on the bookmark. The only thing I could come up with is my favorite "quote", and completely inappropriate for the situation…so I wrote it down.
Don’t mess with Dragons, for you are crunchy and taste good with catsup.

April 2006 – is when I first start to really question god existence in a journal entry. There’s nothing in the entry that specifies exactly what brought this about though.

From here I think it takes another year for me to transition completely from belief to un-belief to fully embracing my Atheism. There was no ONE moment though. No one died. I didn't experience any significant loss or illness. I didn't want to start attending orgys or cheating on my husband. My impression has been that slowly over time, little by little, I lost the ability or desire to continue deluding myself with an answer that didn't satisfy the question.

God commands you to read this

Ok, if God had ever given me an ecstatic cellular orgasm I wouldn't be an atheist today.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Where are the Squidmas Lights?

This Saturday, my husband and I did the F.Q. Story historic home tour. It’s the only historic home tour, in Phoenix, that offers a night tour to showcase holiday lights and luminaries along the sidewalks. We fill plastic containers with wine and enjoy lookie-looing into other people homes. The wine and festive evening walk led me to a discussion with my husband about holiday displays and the horrible lack of anything other than Christmas.

I think someone is missing out on a fantastic business opportunity here. That someone is me, because any idea that would take me more than 4 hours to execute from beginning to end is not likely to happen. I’m willing to pass on this idea with the Atheosphere in hopes that some enterprising person out there will run with it and then I can be a lazy consumer.

I’ve been googling holiday light, custom light displays, light sculptures, etc. There are tons of Christian lighting displays, a good assortment of secular, and maybe just a smidge of Hanukah. Where are the Winter Solstice displays for the Wiccans? Where are the Kwanza lights? I can find Festivus polls, but really, how decorative is a plain aluminum poll in your front yard. You can’t even see it at night.

A local church has an enormous drive through light tour that ends with a three stage light display showing Jeebus rising into the clouds. We could do so much better than that. Instead of a rope light manger or Christmas train, wouldn’t it be great to have a display featuring the “Airing of the Grievances”? An “animated” light display showing the “Feats of Strength”, as the head of the household is getting wrestled to the ground?

And most importantly, where is the giant holiday squid for Squidmas?