Atheism and me: You’re going to hell!


I admit it- this one doesn’t happen very often. Like I’ve said before, I do live in a place where people are (mostly) polite about religion or the lack of it, at least in our everyday lives. But there have been times when I have been informed that because of my lack of belief in deities, I’m on a one-way trip to somewhere particularly flamey and infinite. And the only way to avoid the infinity of flameyness is to accept whichever particular brand of belief the person in question is brandishing professing, and start getting with the worship.

Charming.

Let’s assume for argument’s sake that there is a god. Or gods. Let’s also assume that this particular all-powerful being is the kind of entity who is willing to torture uncounted numbers of people forever because they came to a genuine, good-faith conclusion about the nature of the world around them.

These people are trying to convince me (and you!) to worship this guy. Not obey him out of sheer terror, by the way. Actual worship. Adoration.

Can you imagine respecting anyone this vindictive, self-obsessed and power-hungry? Going further than that, can you imagine worshipping them?

Any god worth their salt- any god worthy of respect- would by definition be an individual capable of proportionate responses to events. A god worth worshipping wouldn’t punish good people eternally for reasonable conclusions based on solid evidence.

So no, I don’t worry about burning in hell. If there is a god, and that god is the kind of individual who’d send me to hell for nonbelief, I wouldn’t stay out of the place long anyway- can’t imagine managing to keep that guy placated for all eternity.

(Not that there’s a shred of evidence for his existence anyway.)

Atheism and me: Talking about religion


Note: This is a post about a thing that I’m still thinking about, and that’s definitely not a fully formed, concrete point of view. It’s a work in progress. And it’s very much based on my pwn experiences and inclinations – I don’t expect others to be the same on this one!

As an atheist, talking about religion can feel like a minefield. Talking about atheism, too. Finding an approach that is both respectful of the people with whom I interact, without compromising my own position, can be difficult. And with good reason. There’s a lot going on. First, though, a little background on my own perspective. Because perspectives are important here. I’m writing from Dublin in Ireland- which makes a big difference, in the mostly-American internet. Religion(s) and atheism have a bit of a different relationship here than they do elsewhere. On a personal level, being an atheist- especially as an adult without any kids- is simply not a big deal. It’s not a thing that people talk about. When it is talked about, I’ve found a lot of understanding for a person’s choice to steer clear of the church. See, the thing about Ireland is that we are very, very aware of the damage that giving religious institutions too much power can do to a society. And the damage that identifying really, really strongly with religious groups can do to a society. I’m not sure if it’s a conscious thing, but talking a lot about god or about our own beliefs is definitely something that would be considered.. odd. People don’t do it, at least in the circles I live in. I’ve heard that this isn’t always the case, particularly in more rural areas, but I can’t speak from experience.

At the same time, the Catholic Church still has a ton of institutional power here, with control over the majority of our schools and hospitals. So we have this strange sitution where religion doesn’t come into every day life, isn’t really discussed, but does have an awful lot of institutional power. Well, one religion does, at least. Because of these factors, it’s not at all uncommon for people to criticise the instutions of the RCC. People are less likely to talk about actual beliefs, though.

So for me, talking about why I believe what I do (or, well, don’t!) needs to get past a level of discomfort with the topic itself, before even starting to tackle any other issues. Tis an odd one.

Background aside, let’s talk about talking about religion. For me, there’s a few issues at stake. The first thing is, of course, being honest about my worldview. As an atheist, I do genuinely believe that there is no real evidence for the existence of gods. And I’m as sure as I am about anything that I’m correct about that. I’m not going to deny that.

That doesn’t mean that there aren’t religious viewpoints that I have respect for, though. And it doesn’t mean that I can get into conversations with religious people and ignore the massively important meanings other than the existence of gods that religion can have. Religion is about the supernatural, but it’s also about a hell of a lot more. It’s about where you come from. It’s about family, identity, class, and a host of other factors. I’ve spoken to enough secular Jews and cafeteria Catholics to know that, although a lot of sceptics would like to pretend otherwise.

When I talk about my views with religious people, I’m not trying to convert anyone. It annoys the hell out of me when anyone tries to convert me to their beliefs. I have no interest in being annoying. What I do try to do is to simply explain my own perspective- why I have come to the conclusions that I have, what those conclusions are, and how that informs my perspective. And I listen. As Jadey said in a comment to a previous post in this series, I prefer to practice “genuinely setting aside my own expectations and trying on something new”. I want to understand where people are coming from- us humans have a really terrible tendency to lump in all the members of other groups together and rely on stereotyped views.

Some people really like debating. I’m not one of them. While I love watching a good debate, I have about as much interest in participating as any sofa-bound sports spectator. Seriously. Not my thing. When I talk about religion and atheism with people, my interest is in increased understanding of our perspectives. That’s all.

Unless someone’s using their religion as an excuse to ignore reality or behave horribly to other people of course. Then the gloves are off. But that’s a different conversation, for another post.

Atheism and me: a brief history.


For a while now, I’ve wanted to write about atheism and me- how I became an atheist, why I am an atheist, what is important to me about atheism, and how I relate as an atheist to those of a more religious mindset. I want to start talking about this today with a history of how I got to where I am today, and will move on to the rest in later posts. I was a kid for whom ‘god’ was as much a part of the world around me as anything else I couldn’t see. As real and unquestioned as distant relatives. While different religions were a thing I took for granted, so was the existence of god. Unlike many ex-religious atheists I don’t think it ever occurred to me to doubt back then. Neither did it occur to me that any of the things I believed were in opposition to evolution, dinosaurs or anything else in the world around me. As a child, I was pretty open about what I would believe. I always wanted to learn more, but the idea of skepticism wasn’t one that came naturally to me. I’m not an atheist because of any bad experiences with religion. I was never badly treated, never abused. I knew some very lovely nuns and priests growing up. Praying with my Nan, and having my forehead coated in liberal quantities of holy water before leaving her house, are memories that still make me smile. As a teenager, things did become a little more fraught. At a particularly persuadable point in my pre-teenage life, I ran out of books at the same time as coming across a massive stack of teen magazines by- and here is where I start getting a little mortified- Focus on the Family. Suddenly I was worrying about sin, about living up to Christian standards and about not ending up in hell. That didn’t last too long, though. We moved countries back to somewhere with many conveniently-located bookshops. I discovered the internet. As teenagerhood really kicked in, I found I had many other things to be worried, enthusiastic, and embarrassed about. I had some slight worries around the time I came out to myself, but reasoned pretty quickly that nothing to patently harmless could possibly be sinful. I did, however, become a lot less Catholic and a lot more vaguely spiritual. I didn’t know what was out there, but I was pretty sure that something. There was ‘something’ out there, it was benevolent, and it was why things would be okay. At least, that’s how I remember how I felt then- I’m aware that memories do change and aren’t always completely accurate. The things that led to my becoming an atheist were, in many ways, the things that led to my becoming an adult. For me these two processes are so entwined as to be interchangeable. I’m not saying, by the way, that only atheists are adults. I’m simply talking about my own experiences and how they have shaped me. I can point to two sets of things which changed my perceptions of the world around me. One was one of the best things that happened in my life, and the others were some of the worst. I went to college, and learned to think critically and to question the world around me. People I cared about died (and lived) in gut-wrenchingly horrible ways, and the world around me gave no fuck. Things just went on. After a while, I noticed that the times when I turned to god were the times when I was deeply unhappy or deeply scared. After a while, I wondered if I did that because we all turn to others when times are hard, or because that was the only time when I could convince myself that any gods existed. For the first time, I began to ask myself why I believed in any gods. Aside from fear and grief, I couldn’t come up with a reason. I still can’t. I spent a few years calling myself an agnostic before admitting, somewhere in my mid-twenties, that I had no belief in anything supernatural. For me, becoming an atheist was part of accepting that I live in the world that is, not the world that I would like to live in. It was part of learning to look at the world sceptically, and to question my own beliefs as much as I question the claims of others. So what do you think? Can you relate? How did you come to your own beliefs or lack of such? Check back here for the next post in this series!

To Hitch


A bunch of people over at Reddit have made a living tribute to Christopher Hitchens, raising a glass to him for how he has inspired them:

I love this.

I mean, I don’t love that Hitchens is seriously ill. I love that people are taking the time to talk about how inspiring he has been to them while he’s still here. To not wait until he’s gone (hopefully a long, long way off in the future) to talk about the good that’s come from his life. To make sure that he damn well knows it.

As for me? Like so many others, I’ve always been challenged by Hitchens. When I agree with him, I’m moved and inspired by his bravery and eloquence. When I disagree with him, I’m discomfited by his intellect, forced to reconsider my own views and the justifications I have for them. I have never, ever heard him speak and been bored. I’ve never heard him speak and been unmoved by his passion, fierce intellect and ever-present humour. I’ve never heard him speak and not looked at the thing he spoke about differently afterwards.

In Hitchens, we have been obscenely fortunate to have one of the great intellectuals of our time be someone who has devoted himself to questioning what is right, what is just, and what is true. For his intelligence, for his bravery, for his forthrightness, for making us all sometimes a little uncomfortable in our own assumptions- I say thank you.

This Is How You Do It: words, privilege, and the stuff you don’t know.


Full disclosure: I think Tim Minchin is great. Massive fan. The guy can make me righteous, giggly, and teary pretty much on demand. All three at once, with White Wine In The Sun.

He’s also straight and cis and male, so it’s not terribly surprising that every so often something a bit ignorant will come out of his face. It happens. Foot-in-mouth disease is one of the more embarrassing symptoms of all forms of privilege. Fortunately, it’s also eminently treatable- even if the treatment involves a little bit more self-awareness and humility than most people are willing to shell out for. But just in case you’re in this situation, here’s a good timeline on how to clear up the vast majority of foot-in-mouth infestations:

Find out that you’ve done something ridiculous, ignorant, and offensive:

It’s quite likely that you won’t have realised it at the time, but you’ve just Screwed Up Royally. Oops! If you’re unlucky, then you’ll never find out. However, if you’re very very lucky, then someone will point out to you that you did a thing and now you’ve a giant foot hanging out of your face:

Chances are, your first reaction is going to be somewhere between denial and disbelief. For the sake of that foot not lodging itself permanently halfway down your esophagus, let’s hope it was closer to the latter.

Acknowledge it

By now you’ll have realised that you’ve Screwed Up. Again, you’ve two choices here. You can keep with the denial, or you can begin the process of dislodging that foot by, well, acknowledging your screwup.

And look at that, some of that foot’s coming loose already. This is where many people stop treatment. However, unbeknownst to you, you still do have a few toes between your teeth. It’s okay, treatment for this is very straightforward.

Try not to be too defensive

This is the hard part. You see, nobody likes being told they have a giant foot sticking out of their face. They probably think they have a perfectly lovely face with just a nose and maybe some glasses sticking out of it. A little bit of defensiveness is, unfortunately, almost inevitable. Just try and tone it down a bit, or you’ll run out of feet.

Oh, and you might want to do a bit of accepting that there are bigger issues at stake than your own ego also.

Prevention is better than cure

Foot-in-mouth can be a recurring condition, and it only gets worse with repeated exposures. Fortunately, there’s a reasonably effective method of vaccination! Vaccines are great, aren’t they? And just like a quick jab or three can prevent you from coming down with the pox, a little bit of knowledge can keep your feet firmly attached to your ankles where they belong. This kind of vaccine is also cheap ‘n’ easy to mass-produce and to spread throughout the population, and doesn’t even need a visit to your GP. Nifty, huh?

And there we go! Foot pretty much reattached to leg.

Now, I’m not saying that Tim did everything right here. However, engaging with the people who you’ve offended, listening to what they have to say, doing a bit of research, being public about what you’ve learned, and a commitment to changing future behaviour? Is pretty frickin’ awesome, as far as I’m concerned.

Also, have a video:

What do you think? I’m very aware that I’m a cis person pontificating on how to not be an ass to trans people and am a bit on the privilegey side myself here, so would be very very interested in hearing other perspectives.

Placebo me up!


So my life this past few months has been a bit of a rollercoaster. And when I say ‘rollercoaster’, I’m speaking as a person whose (rare!) rollercoasting experiences have normally involved terrified screams of “GET ME OFF THIS THING I AM GOING TO DIE NOW I DO NOT WANT TO DIE”, combined with a truly special level of nausea as I hang on for dear life and try not to open my eyes. In short, I’m more of a dodgems girl myself.

This is also, by the way, why posts here have been few and far-between. Bloggistry has had to take a back seat to sorting my life out, I’m afraid. I haven’t forgotten you, though, and by now I have notebooks positively bulging with notes on posts.

One of the side-effects of all of this rollercoastering has been absolutely terrible sleep, with all that goes with it. Not wanting to do anything with potential major side-effects about this, I’ve spent the past week popping herbal, alt-meddy sleeping pills. They’ve worked a treat! I’m less irritable, more optimistic, and the bags under my eyes no longer look like I’ve been moonlighting as a punching bag. Result!

I’m pretty sure that this is mostly the placebo effect. I say ‘pretty sure’ and ‘mostly’ because I’ve been incredibly careful to not research these particular herbal, alt-meddy sleeping pills at all. I know that they’re not homeopathic, and that’s about it. While I’m well aware that the placebo effect works even if you know it’s a placebo, I’m not willing to part my money with stuff I know to be bullshit. You’ll note, by the way, that I’m not letting on to You Lot what they are either. I know you too well to think that one of you wouldn’t have a link to something empirical in the comments before I’d finished my cuppa.

So here’s my question to you: What do you think about knowingly placebo-ing yourself? How would you feel about treating yourself with things you know to be placebos? Do you think there’s anything dodgy about it? Do you think it’s ridiculously cool that it works? I’m unsure myself. But for now, I ain’t complaining.

A Linkspam To The Past


Since I disappeared from the internet for a while, the first few links here are going to be ancient history. Things which are multiple weeks old. Several decades, in internet time.

I still think they’re worth sharing. And want to do so before everything in this post becomes truly paleolithic, so it’s going up today instead of on schedule, next Wednesday. Because it’s my blog, and I can.

 

Geekery and the Humanities: A defense of the humanities, of subjectivity, and why they’re as much a part of geek culture as the STEM fields. Also, why Sheldon is a dick.

I’m not anti-logic or anti-science; I do think these things are valuable, but they can only be convincing and powerful when they take into account emotion and the humanities (for lack of a better term). None of these things work best on their own. Which brings me to my real argument: the idea that the humanities are less important than STEM is an idea that geeks need to drop, because the humanities are constitutive to geek culture, just as much as science, technology, and math are.

Why Does She Stay With That Jerk? TW for domestic violence. Holly Pervocracy looks at reasons why people she met through her work in the ER stayed in abusive relationships. I’m not going to quote anything specifically, so I can keep the TW at the other side of the link. It’s essential reading, though, if you’ve ever wondered why people stick out relationship abuse. On a similar note is autumn whitefield-madrano’s post over on Feministe,  “I Can Handle It”: On Relationship Violence, Independence, and Capability. This post is a lot more personal- it was a lot more difficult for me to read, because of this. It’s her story of what it felt like for her, from the inside of an abusive relationship.

Cisgender News is the best. If you’ve ever facepalmed at how trans people are discussed in the media, you’ll love it. If you haven’t, then you should probably read it anyway to get a snarky, snarky feel for how messed-up it is. Then you too can facepalm!

Rebekah Wade – a cisgender woman who has now quit as News International chief executive – not only conquered the macho cis world of tabloid journalism to become its queen but did so with astonishing speed. What was behind her rise to power?

Rebekah Brooks – as she started to call herself following a second marriage – courted power but avoided publicity.  She started receiving female hormones via her ovaries during her first puberty, and intends to continue with them.

And now for something a little more current.

I’m an atheist. Is that a problem? Kate Hilpern writes about being an atheist godparent. What does being a godparent really mean? Is it as much a purely religious role as the church would have you believe? Is it okay for atheists to participate in religious baptisms?

some will say I have no integrity. As its name suggests, a spokesperson from the Church of England points out, at the heart of the role is a commitment to support someone in the journey of faith. An atheist can be a wonderful influence in a child’s life, but being a godparent is to be a representative of the religious community and an example of godly living (which is why they should be baptised and preferably confirmed), in addition to supporting them socially.

I’m an atheist. I’m a godparent as well. When I was asked to be a godparent I was still technically a member of the Catholic Church, not having yet registered my apostasy, but was a nonbeliever. The reasons why I happily went into a church, crossed my fingers behind my back and took part in that ceremony? Because I was incredibly honoured to be asked. Because my own relationship with my godparents has always been about love, not doctrine. Because there are very few people who I’ll engage in Catholic ceremonies for- and my godkid’s dad is one of them. Am I entirely happy with that decision? I have no idea.

Finally, today’s Awesome Person Of The Week is Sally. Who has a thing or two to say about being described as a precious pearl. Or a lollipop. And also a few things to say about preventing sexual assault. (Hint: not assaulting people is a good start).

Enjoy!