Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Should feminists marry?

[A Practical Wedding has the best information on marriage and wedding that is sane, true and balanced for a multitude of opinions and lifestyles. They are awesome. For many quality posts on feminism, check this out: 'feminism' keyword search]

My opinion on the institution of marriage has gone all over the place the last few years, from believing it is instituted by God with specific duties for husband and wife, to all but opposing it, and now I think I've settled on a final opinion.

This is important to talk about, because as modern-day feminists, we can feel like sell outs if we do decide we want to marry. And that's totally legitimate. I want to share why I think marriage is ok, even for the feminist.

A funny thing happens when you break away from religion--or at least the very negative parts of religions: freedom. You are free to investigate, learn and decide based on evidence and your own preferences. There's no one telling you what to do. You have to make your own decisions. It's very exciting, but scary because there's no cookie cutter road map of How to Live anymore.

Marriage has a rather disgusting history for the most part. The religious right currently likes to pretend that marriage is one man, one woman and has always been that way. But that's just not true.

Even when marriage is for one man and one woman, historically women were traded as property, a servant forever dependent on some man to provide for her. In any culture, before effective birth control came to be, a sexually active woman was guaranteed a life of housework and childrearing. How could there be any time for any further pursuit?

Thankfully, things have changed. Nowadays women can (in most modernized countries) do and be anything they want, for the most part. Unless, of course, fanatical politicians succeed in making abortion and birth control illegal, but let's set that aside as I am talking in huge generalities here.

My point being: in a free society, marriage is what YOU make of it. It can be a religious marriage. A childfree marriage. A same-sex marriage. A polygamous marriage. An "open" marriage. Whatever.

Marriage has been many things and will continue to be many more things because it evolves with people and their cultures. What it boils down to is that marriage is an agreement between 2 (or 3, 4, 10...) consenting adults, and each marriage is different because the people are different. What other people do in their marriage has no effect on you and yours, nor does what has happened in the past concerning marriage define yours. We are free to make our own rules. I think marriage is basically a legal and/or relational contract between consenting adults, and what that contract contains is up to them to define.

There are several aspects of marriage: legal, spiritual (if you're religious) and what I call relational (if you're not religious). Let's set aside spiritual marriage for obvious reasons. Relational marriage is defined by the individual relationship; for example, I feel and behave as if I am married, and I frequently call my partner "husband", because we completely share our lives together and are completely committed to being together. To me, that's my marriage. It's an agreement between ourselves and what makes us happy. I know several other couples like us, and I'm sure you do too. You don't have to be legally married to be married in your heart (i.e., emotionally). This relational marriage is what's most important, I think, as marriage really only takes place between the people in the relationship. I don't have to use the word married to describe my relationship, but sometimes I do, because that's what it feels like to us; we have reached that level of happiness and commitment and neither of us plans on going anywhere.

I also don't believe marriage is till death to us part, unless you want it to be. I will only stay married as long as I am happy and the relationship is healthy; if it ceases to be both of those things, I will no longer be committed to it for my own sake, and I extend the same courtesy to him if he is not happy and healthy. When I was at Catholic Pre Cana, the hostess said that, "Marriage is like this big, beautiful house that has all these really cool rooms... but once you go in, you can't ever leave that house." I beg to differ! I see no point in voluntarily suffering. When that house is rotting and unfixable, leave.

Legally, of course, can be the can of worms everyone is worried about. It is a risk, yes, and it's not for everyone. Personally, it's right in my situation because 1) I have a high level of trust and love for him, 2) I'm comfortable with this risk because of #1, and 3) I have a batshit crazy family and don't want them to have control over my assets should something happen to me. #3 is what is really behind my making my marriage legal. BTW, this is NOT to say that because someone doesn't get married that they don't love and trust their partner. It's just that because of my family, his fairly dangerous job, and our level of commitment, that I'm ok with making it legal.

Originally I was going to do all the necessary paperwork to make him my beneficiary, and medical power of attorney, etc, but when I looked into the legal forms it made my head spin. The laws are crazy, and they're so different for each state. I would have had to hire a lawyer to make sense of it all. And guys, I'm lazy. I realized that I was committed to spending the rest of my life with him anyway, and marriage is just easier because it does all that crap in one fell swoop and is recognized in all states. Plus, we get tax and health insurance benefits. That process gave me much more empathy with my same-sex brothers and sisters who are in my position, and are pointlessly denied their rights to do so.

For this feminist, marriage is a good choice. My partner and I get to define what marriage is to us, and we will not stay married if we are unhappy and so will never be trapped. It is an equal partnership and a mutually beneficial one. There are financial risks if things don't work out but I am well aware of them, and I'm comfortable making things legal because I strongly believe I know who he is and who I am and that we are a good fit for life. The benefits outweigh the risks. Obviously, it's taken years for me to get to this point with myself and with him, as it should. We are old enough to be settled into who we are and our beliefs and habits, and ready for one life partner.

After my first marriage, I vowed against being in a relationship ever again because they completely took away your freedom. And don't misunderstand--being single is awesome and you are more free single than you are in a relationship. But I've found someone who makes my life better when I'm with him than when I'm single, and I loved being single! It's a conscious choice that I made, and re make every day, to give up some freedom for the benefit of my life partner.

This has been incredibly long and for that I'm sorry, but I hope it helps my fellow feminists, or any person struggling with the question of marriage, see that marriage can be a good, and happy thing (officially legal or not!), when freely undertaken with someone right for you.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Then why call him God?

Oh, man. What a past few months it's been. I am still here. I have not forgotten about my blog! I've been extremely busy! It's getting better. I'll post more soon, but want to share this gem:

Isn't that the truth? It really is the quick and easy guide to God. I know, I know, logic hurts. It's painful, but it's gotta be done. Theists will go down the arguments in this chart, and conclude that "God works in mysterious ways." Well, that's just bullshit. If he is almighty, all knowing and all good, working mysteriously serves no point. It is just a cop out that theists give God; they try to pretend that all the pain and suffering is part of a Master Plan. God is all knowing, all powerful and all good? Ok, fine. Take a look at this picture:

Look at it. Really look at it. If you are a theist, understand that the God you believe in sees this too. He knows about it, and all the other horrors of the world.

He sees this too. He knows about it, and he can change it, but he doesn't. He is so powerful and so loving, that he does nothing.

If he was lonely and created us, he could have made us to be completely perfect. He could have designed the world in any number of ways that would have not made suffering and evil possible. If you had the power God has, wouldn't you abolish suffering? Or would you keep it around, just to be mysterious, because it works into some nebulous Master Plan concept?

If that's God's plan, it sucks. I don't care how powerful and loving he is--if this is the best he can do, God is either not very powerful or a complete sadistic asshole. Under what circumstances is it ok to allow these things to occur? None.

If there were a man who knew about his child being repeatedly stabbed, for example, and this man could put a stop to the stabbing and immediately heal all his wounds, but he just... didn't... we would be outraged. The morality is the same. God doesn't get his own custom morality unless you want to believe that morality is relative. But since God's law is eternal, unchanging and just, I doubt many theists believe that morality is relative (and for the record, I don't either, but for different reasons).

Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then He is not omnipotent.
Is He able, but not willing? Then He is malevolent.
Is He both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?
Is He neither able nor willing? Then why call Him God?
- Epicurus

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

You're so vain, you probably think this post is about you

If you haven't heard about the Samantha Brick debacle, you should. That shit is hilarious. I apologize in advantage for indulging in some "celebrity" trash.

I am not one to downplay anyone's beauty--I am regularly teased for finding people pretty when others do not--but come on, Ms. Brick! In the pictures I've seen you range from pretty to pretty average. I think what makes you lose friends is your unbelievable arrogance. I have friends more beautiful than I, and I am more beautiful than some of my friends... that's very normal. But never has there been any difference in the way I've been treated, or the way I treat my friends, nor have I ever even heard of the catfighting that you describe. My friends trust me, and I trust them! I can't even crack a joke about American girls vs. British girls, because there are some damn hot English chicks out there.

I can't imagine the balls to be so wonderfully average, and to agree to have an article published about it! And did you seriously just compare yourself to Angelina Jolie?! What the fuck are you smoking?!!

I don't care if you are physically more attractive or less than I am, and I don't think most women do either. Even if you were the most gorgeous woman in the world, this arrogance, so amazingly public, would be ugly. But it sure does make it funny when you are pretty average!


Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Death is the departure of the soul, or is it?

My mother once defined death as that moment when the soul is ready to depart this world.

There are probably millions who would agree with this, but do you know how ridiculous that idea is? Let's run down the top 10 causes of death (in the U.S.):

1. Diseases of heart.
2. Malignant neoplasms (cancer, tumors, growths).
3. Chronic lower respiratory diseases.
4. Cerebrovascular diseases (limited or no blood flow to the brain, such as a stroke).
5. Accidents (unintentional injuries).
6. Alzheimer’s disease.
7. Diabetes mellitus.
8. Nephritis, nephrotic syndrome and nephrosis (disorders of the kidneys).
9. Influenza and pneumonia.
10. Intentional self-harm (suicide).

This is from the Center for Disease Control (CDC), published January 11, 2012 of the 2010 National Vital Statistics Reports.

Do you notice a pattern? In all instances of death, to explain it very broadly, there is a dysfunction or cessation of a biological process. If these biological causes are in fact results from the soul choosing to "meet its Maker", then why are not all the causes the same? Wouldn't it make more sense that only one cause would happen, over and over? But I think it would make the most sense that there were no biological causes at all, and death was spontaneous, random and without an external effect. What care would the soul have if it left the body because of heart disease, or because of kidney failure? There is no purpose for a spiritual entity to have any concern with a biological cause of death. That would be like my houseplant caring about what kind of car I drove!

If death is a result of the soul leaving the body, then we can easily conclude that the soul or its departure has some kind of connection to biological processes, since 100% of the time, a biological process failure also occurs at death. The goal then becomes to establish the connection between the soul and the body. How does one do that? This is where we find the problem. There is no evidence, no footprint, residue or trace elements left behind to examine. The soul can't be touched, smelled, seen, tasted or heard. It can't be examined, tested, observed. Why? Because we cannot find it! It is nowhere. It is invisible, intangible, inaudible. There is no essence or substance that we can grab onto. We are assured very much of its existence, but we have to take it on faith. Conveniently, the only experience we will have with being just a soul won't happen until after we die, after we are gone, and only when it is no longer possible to communicate with those still living a physical existence.

Theists don't see this as a problem. Of course the soul is intangible and invisible! The spiritual plane is a separate (but parallel) universe to our visible, physical plane. Just like God. We have to take it on faith that all these claims are true, because the tradition of the religion, the church elders and doctrines, and the religious texts say so--human expressions, all of them. If God and the soul are these invisible puppeteers behind the scenes, how can I possibly distinguish between their completely invisible/intangible/inaudible existence, and their non-existence? I can't! There's no possible way, except for "faith". Faith is poetically defined as hope in things unseen, but I define it as belief in things without any reason.

If you are a reader of this blog, you know where I am going with this. If I can't distinguish between a thing's non-existence and a thing's invisible/intangible/inaudible existence, then that thing is completely meaningless. It is completely pointless. It is a belief that exists only in our heads--oh, it's not? Show me. I don't insist on physical proof because I am short-sighted. I insist on physical proof because it is the only measure of reality that we have.

Physical proof is the only thing that is logical. If you want to believe in things that you understand are illogical, that's fine, but don't insist that anyone else do so, don't judge them if they don't, and don't have a double standard. If you believe in illogical, unproved things in one aspect of your life, be open to illogical, unproven things in all aspects of your life. Why don't you believe in the tooth fairy, Santa Clause, leprechauns, paganism, buddhism, Zeus, or whatever it is you don't believe? What is your process for determining what's correct, and what's not? What idea wins out over another and why? How? How did you establish the reality of one, and the fantasy of another? Why are Christians wrong, and Muslims right?

And why, oh why, does God (whoever he is) not come down from the heavens, right now, in modern times with video cameras, Facebook, Twitter and instant photography, and prove to us all that he is real and what [insert religion] teaches is true? It would be a bit like this scene from the tv show called V (2009), in this clip, where Anna turns the sky red over the entire earth and her spaceships are seen all over the world. She communicates with earthlings in all their languages, everyone can see (and visit!) the spaceships, and it is covered on the news. And guess what! Not a single person earth can ever deny the existence of aliens.

Again, if we are to rely on faith, or believe things solely because of faith, how can you compare and contrast two faiths (or more) against one another? If you cannot demonstrate that one is more correct than the other, how can you demonstrate that one is correct at all? There is nothing to hold onto, to show, to illustrate, to compare.

The soul, in any definition, is a nice idea, but one that has no substance. We are but temporal, temporary beings, and there is nothing wrong with that. There is still morality and immorality, justice and injustice--but all the battles are fought here. All of love, laughter, learning and exploration happens here and now. Enjoy this life! If there is an afterlife--and there could be--we have to be honest and accept that there is no evidence for it, and stop fighting each other, insisting that our story is true, and everyone else has it wrong.


Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Unintelligent Design

Intelligent Design "theory" is one of the dumbest ideas out there, for multiple reasons, but today I am going to focus on only one. If you are going to say that god exists because everything appears to be ordered and designed, then you need to own up to the fact that truly everything is designed by god. Theist always cop out and leave the dirty work to the devil, blaming Lucifer for everything malicious or imperfect. But that is just way too convenient, and hello! there is no evidence of this invisible power war going on, just a bunch of ridiculous humans trying to rationalize the universe with religious fantasies. The Universe is the way it is, and that is that. There are reasons for everything, some of which we even know.

Do you know what the #1 reason is that I don't believe the universe was intelligently designed? UTIs. That's right, urinary tract infections, baby!

In the hilarious words of Neil Degrasse Tyson, " It's like an entertainment complex in the middle of a sewage system--no engineer would design that at all!"

DO watch the full talk on YouTube here. It is fascinating and entertaining.

Being a female, getting UTIs is ridiculously easy. In fact, most women experience them up to several times a year. It's pretty much a given. Among other possible reasons, the biggest is that, well, the back door and all its bacterial glory is inches away from your hoo-hah! What intelligent being would ever design it this way? Why, as Tyson also points out, do we eat, breathe and communicate out of the same hole in our face, accounting for thousands of choking deaths per year (as well as social faux pas)?

Simple questions, simple answers. We are not designed, at least not intelligently. We are the product of billions of years of nature's trial and error. We have the leftover body parts in our genetic code to prove it, like appendices, coccyges and wisdom teeth. Look at all the birth defects, and these are just the ones that are still here! There must be hundreds of thousands that nature has edited out by now.

Theists define what they believe, and then try to warp the evidence to make it seem to fit what they what it to say. Let's be honest. Let the evidence speak for itself, and tell its own story.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

It's hard not to be smug

It's only because breeding is the norm and default (and frequently a religious mandate) that is seems so strange to not do it. For those of us childfree who came to it later, we feel like we won the lottery. We're free, yippee!!!!! It's like being handed a million dollars. It's this huge burden lifted off our shoulders. We thought we knew two things: we had to have kids at some point, and we didn't want to, thus a major conflict that can take years to sort out. When we finally realize that breeding is completely optional we are happy and at peace. This mindset has been considered immoral, bizarre, selfish and unusual and it wasn't until the last few decades that this is beginning to change.

This is generally how we see ourselves, and how we see our childed friends and family. Many childed believe that the childfree are bored, selfish, unfulfilled and miserable; many childfree see the childed as frazzled, overworked, unpaid, unappreciated, stressed, boring, mentally stifled... I could go on.

I often wonder why there are such vast differences in mindset when it comes to having children. Are we just wired differently? Why do some women have baby rabies and some women are repulsed by children?

I have friends whose dream it is to become mothers. In one case, it's nearly an obsession. I just can't relate. I can't fathom throwing away my time, my body, my energy, my money, my happy relationship towards such a miserable endeavor. There's not even a guarantee that your children will be healthy, productive, or even good people! Those are HUGE factors. Every murderer, rapist, serial killer, oppressive dictator and thief is someone's child. Every clueless idiot who doesn't have two brain cells to rub together is someone's child. Every disabled, mentally ill, suicidal, paraplegic, cancerous person is someone's child.

Still this compulsion to breed is very strong. It's got to be biology. What person in their right mind would want to take such a risk? Who wants to fix breakfast, lunch and dinner for someone else 3x a day, 365x a year for at least 18 years? Who wants to sacrifice romance in their relationship? Who wants to deal in spit up, vomit, poop, drool, pee and frequent illness for each child? Who wants to worry about a child's education and entertainment, and all the time and expense that goes into those? Parents do, apparently. To the childfree, all that looks like hell.

And parents, you guys make it easy to see the misery to anyone who is paying attention. If you have baby obsession and your eyes glaze over at the sight of a child, you're hopeless. But to anyone who analyzes child rearing critically, it's pretty obvious that shit sucks. Parents, we see your tired eyes and saggy boobs. We know that you moms pee a little when you sneeze, and that your vaginas are now as spacious as a grand hallway, and your husbands' penises the proverbial hot dogs within them. We see your kids tugging on your shirt, whining for something, and throwing tantrums. We hear about your adventures in vomit, poop and mysterious illnesses on your Facebook statuses. We hear about your marriage problems because you have neither time nor energy to maintain your relationships, not to mention major disagreements about money and child rearing. We know that you miss the happy, energetic woman your wife used to be, and you resent having to work to support her SAHMness, even though the house is always gross and kids are brats.

Knowing that this is a choice, and as adults we are able to think about the decisions we make, I don't feel bad for parents and I truly hope they are happy with their choice. Many of them are, though I can't understand it personally. One man's trash is another man's treasure, I suppose.

But it's impossible for me to not feel really happy with my choice when I see all these things going on around me. There's nothing about children or the child-raising experience that could ever make all the bad things worth it for me. Every time I see my friends' Facebook posts about having to take their baby to the doctor 5 times in 1 week for his ear infection, or a rant about a teenager's rebellion, a big smile creeps up on my face. When I come home to my clean, quiet house, I rejoice. When I sleep through the night, every night, and sleep in every weekend, it feels great. When I drink wine in my bubble bath, I'm not missing anything. When I don't trip over toys, or don't have to ever cook for kids, when my furniture stays in good shape, my body intact, my relationship happy... I don't miss a damn thing.

I can take vacations and spend money without have to worry about babysitting, kid-friendly crap or budgeting for my kids' needs and wants. I have time. I have freedom. I have peace. I have financial security, and can plan for my later years. I have time to nurture friendships and experience life. I have more of myself to give to charity, being able to reach out of my daily bubble, because I'm not wrapped up in my own little world of daily child rearing. I am not adding any more to environmental devastation and overpopulation. I can zip through my errands and grocery shopping without hauling a kid around, dealing with temper tantrums or hassling with diaper bags and car seats. I am efficient. I don't miss work unless I want to. Sticky toddler kisses and occasional Kodak moments aren't worth it. I don't have to listen to kids' music or TV shows 500 times a week.

I think I'll go enjoy a bottle of fine wine and fancy cheese, and read in my quiet home.

It's hard not to be smug. /schadenfreude.

2012 so far & some reflections on death and the future

Life has been kicking my butt this year. I've had some high points, and some very, very low points. I wrote about this before, but my grandmother passed away in January. That has been hard, but it has been a normal, peaceful process of grieving as she was in her 90s and we had known for years that any day would be her last. I was lucky to be able to say goodbye to her before her mind was completely gone, and spent her subsequent years loving and appreciating her, and knowing she did not suffer is enormously comforting. But what has devastated me deeply is the death of my chocolate lab 10 days ago. This has hit me like a ton of painful bricks. It is still so fresh it is hard for me to talk about; he was my best friend, my child and my confidant. He went from perfectly fine to completely paralyzed in a week, and it was not pretty. He was in pain, was extremely anxious, and couldn't control any body function. When he was correctly diagnosed with a spinal tumor, we knew he was only going to get worse, and quickly. To date this has been the worst and most heart-wrenching experience of my life, far exceeding my divorce, the death of my human child in my old life, and near-complete ostracization from my family. I had to make the decision to put him down in order to spare further suffering, and though intellectually I know it was the best, emotionally I am racked with guilt. Fortunately I have friends who have been here, too, and their understanding and support is invaluable.

In the midst of all this pain, two things become very clear: 1) Life is precious, and 2) I have a much more personal understanding of why people believe in the comforting fairy tales of life after death.

I wish it were true, and I certainly hope it is, that we all go to some utopian place after death and are reunited in eternal bliss. The reality is that there is no real reason to believe that this is so. I would love to be wrong, and I hope I am, but I have to deal with reality on reality's terms. Well, I suppose I don't have to, but I chose to, rather than believe whatever marshmallowy fluff feels good. It would be easy to stick my head in the sand and believe something sweet and sugary; but it is such actions, such mental atrophy, that ultimately place barriers in our path to knowledge (see my recent post for specific reasons why). When you believe you have the answers, then a quest for attainable knowledge becomes completely meaningless. Curiosity becomes meaningless. Ambition to push the limits of our abilities becomes meaningless.

As it is, death is final. We don't yet know if there is anything beyond it, or any way to end it. I have hope that as we continue learning about the Universe and the origins of life, we will be amazed at the beauty and possibility that is out there. Maybe one day death will be optional--I sometimes see this in the future, with the advances in medical technology, especially witnessing the baby industry of lab-grown human organs. Maybe one day we will discover Earth-life planets that can sustain life, and we will have the ability to travel to and from there. Maybe one day we will meet intelligent, extraterrestrial life. Maybe one day humans will evolve to despise conflict of all kinds, and we will become a unified, kind species that loves knowledge and art. Maybe one day there will be no poverty, no politics, no suffering and no hate.

Maybe these are pipe dreams, but I believe that all those things are possible, at least in a small scale. Surely, though, none of it will happen if religion--and its pointless rules, and insistence on unsubstantiated dogma and invisible beings/places--continues to be considered a positive institution. Thankfully, this is changing. As knowledge increases, religion changes to an ever-more nebulous idea with a God whose only power is to fill in the gaps. From our primordial goo, humans--at least many of us--have evolved to think critically, to seek knowledge, and to respect each other and our fellow animals. I have hope that this can continue.

Even if we outbreed our planet's ability to nourish us, I have hope. If we don't change our behavior globally, we are certainly headed that way, but even so, Earth will survive and we humans will experience a great natural culling of our species. If that happens, maybe after the dust settles and we die off until we reach a sustainable population level, maybe then we will have learned our lesson. Humans are famous for making some really huge mistakes with horrendous consequences, but over time we generally do learn from them. Maybe, just maybe, we will finally learn that God isn't going to swoop down and care for us; we have to take care of ourselves. Maybe we will see that our choices are to choose to breed less, or breed carelessly and wait for a natural culling, wars, and mass excessive suffering.

Knowledge is the key, as is perseverance. Don't give up.

Saturday, February 18, 2012


A few weeks ago I ordered Penn Jillette's God, no! book, and when it finally arrived I was so excited. I really like Penn Jillete for many reasons, and consider myself a fan. I'd already known that he is brazen, profane, and insanely comfortable with anything explicit--still, though, the near-constant usage of fuck, cunt, cock, dick, pussy and whatever else was distracting. And annoying. It's not that I was offended; I use those words too, but they quickly get annoying and lose their value when used so repetitiously. I just found it annoying. Did I mention it was annoying?

With the title of God, no! and the tagline "Signs You May Already Be an Atheist and Other Magical Tales", I was expecting a book about atheism in some fashion. Instead, it is a book full of random ramblings about anything and everything. It has no focus. Very quickly into the book I found myself thinking, "What the fuck is this about? Why is he talking about this? Where is this going? Is there a point to this story?", but I plunged ahead thinking that surely he would bring his stories full circle and they would have some sort of relevance to atheism or a related topic. But God, no, it never happened.

Admittedly, I haven't finished it and I doubt I will. I made it to the Scuba Fucking story--an underwater tale of how he spent many days screwing a model multiple times a day, twice underwater to win a bet that said he couldn't orgasm at 40 feet--and that's when I finally gave up on, at least for now. The lurid details of her nipples, how they greased up each other's genitals with coconut oil, her screaming multiple orgasms and the quantity of his ejaculations...I just don't give a shit. Why the hell is that story, and all the other ramblings, in there? Magic has always bored me (I know, I'm weird) and so I really would glaze over when he got to talking about that industry and the people in it (which was frequently).

I do like his atheistic Ten Suggestions set in contrast to the Bible's Ten Commandments. The truth is, though, this is really his memoir. It's a collection of thoughts, stories and random experiences of his life--occasionally there is thrown in a little atheistic philosophy. Looking at it from that perspective, I understand it and like it a lot better. It would be where disorganized conversation would flow if you were enjoying a few beers with Jillette (though he doesn't drink), and it would be a lot of fun then. I just wish I knew that was what it was about! I was expecting to learn about why he doesn't believe in God, and the signs that I may already be an atheist.

Buy the book if you want to know about Penn Jillette and some of his crazy experiences, as told with his vibrant personality and shocking vulgarity. Don't buy it if you want to learn about atheism.

I remain, however, a fan of Penn.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The Top One Reason Religion is Harmful

If you do nothing else today, read this post. It is from Greta Christina ( I found the entirety of the article about a month ago on a religious forum, but it was posted without an original URL and without credit to the author. The essay is freaking brilliant, simple, and does an excellent job of explaining concisely everything you will ever learn from my little ol' blog.

Today I finally got around to trying to locate the original source and I was thrilled to discover it was Greta Christina who should really be called Great Christina, because she is just that awesome.

If you want to read the original post, it is here. It is so damn good, though, that I am copying the whole thing here, and bolding my favorite lines. It is lengthy, but soooo worth your time.

"The Top One Reason Religion Is Harmful" by Greta Christina, November 13, 2009.

So what is it about religion -- exactly -- that's so harmful?

I've argued many times that religion is not only mistaken, but does more harm than good. But why do I think that is?

Sure, I can make a list of specific harms religion has done, from here to Texas. I've done exactly that. But that's not enough to make my case. I could make long lists of harms done by plenty of human institutions: medicine, education, democracy. That doesn't make them inherently malevolent.

Why is religion special -- and specially troubling? What makes religion different from any other ideology, community, system of morality, hypothesis about how the world works? And why does that difference makes it uniquely prone to cause damage?

The debates about religion usually come in two types: "is religion accurate or mistaken," and "is religion helpful or harmful." And ever since I put together my best "mistaken" arguments, my Top Ten Reasons I Don't Believe in God, I've been trying to wrap up my "harmful" arguments in a similar nutshell.

But I'm realizing that I don't have ten arguments for why religion is harmful. I don't even have 57,842 arguments.

I have one.

I'm realizing that everything I've ever written about religion's harm boils down to one thing.

It's this: Religion is ultimately dependent on belief in invisible beings, inaudible voices, intangible entities, undetectable forces, and events and judgments that happen after we die.

It therefore has no reality check.

And it is therefore uniquely armored against criticism, questioning, and self- correction. It is uniquely armored against anything that might stop it from spinning into extreme absurdity, extreme denial of reality ... and extreme, grotesque immorality.

(I can hear the chorus already. "But not all religion is like that! Not all believers are crazy extremists! Some religions adapt to new evidence and changing social mores! It's not fair to criticize all religion just because some believers do bad things!" I hear you. I'll get to that at the end, after I make my case.)

The Proof Is Not in the Pudding

The thing that uniquely defines religion, the thing that sets it apart from every other ideology or hypothesis or social network, is the belief in unverifiable supernatural entities. Of course it has other elements -- community, charity, philosophy, inspiration for art, etc. But those things exist in the secular world, too. They're not specific to religion. The thing that uniquely defines religion is belief in supernatural entities. Without that belief, it's not religion.

And with that belief, the capacity for religion to do harm gets cranked up to an alarmingly high level -- because there's no reality check.

Any other ideology or philosophy or hypothesis about the world is eventually expected to pony up. It's expected to prove itself true and/or useful, or else correct itself, or else fall by the wayside. With religion, that is emphatically not the case. Because religion is a belief in the invisible and unknowable -- and it's therefore never expected to prove that it's right, or even show good evidence for why it's right -- its capacity to do harm can spin into the stratosphere.

Let me make a comparison to show my point. Let's compare religious belief with political ideology. After all, religion isn't the only belief that's armored against criticism, questioning, and self- correction. Religion isn't the only belief that leads people to ignore evidence in favor of their settled opinion. And contrary to the popular atheist saying, religion is not the only belief that inspires good people to do evil things. Political ideology can do all that quite nicely. People have committed horrors to perpetuate Communism: an ideology many of those people sincerely believed was best. And horrors were committed by Americans in the last Bush administration ... in the name of democracy and freedom.

But even the most stubborn political ideology will eventually crumble in the face of it, you know, not working. People can only be told for so long that under Communism everyone will eat strawberries and cream, or that in an unrestricted free market the rising tide will lift all boats. A political ideology makes promises about this life, this world. If the strawberries and cream and rising boats aren't forthcoming, eventually people notice. (The 2008 election was evidence of that.) People can excuse and rationalize a political ideology for a long time ... but ultimately, the proof is in the pudding.

Religion is different.

With religion, the proof is emphatically not in the pudding. With religion, the proof comes from invisible beings, inaudible voices. The proof comes from prophets and religious leaders, who supposedly hear these voices and are happy to tell the rest of us what they say. It comes from religious texts, written ages ago by prophets and religious leaders, ditto. It comes from feelings in people's hearts that, conveniently, tell them what they already believe or want to believe. And the proof comes in the afterlife, after people die and can't come back to tell us about it. Every single claim made by religion comes from people: not from sources out in the world that other people can verify, but from the insides of people's heads.

So with religion, even if God's rules and promises aren't working out, followers still follow them ... because the ultimate judge and judgment are invisible. There is no pudding, no proof -- and no expectation that there should be any. And there is therefore no reality check, no self-correction, when religion starts to go to the bad place.

In fact, with many religions, that idea that you should expect to eat the pudding is blasphemy. A major part of many religious doctrines is that trusting the tenets of your faith without evidence is not only acceptable, but a positive virtue. ("Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe." -- John 20:29)

In other words: The belief in invisible beings, undetectable forces, and events that happen after we die, provides a uniquely effective armor against the valid criticism, questioning, and deflation of ideas and institutions that do serious harm.

And religion builds on this armor with layer after layer. Among these insulating layers: The idea that letting go of religious doubts is a liberating act of love. The idea that skepticism and questioning are the same as cynicism, nihilism, and despair. The idea that religion operates in a different realm from the everyday world, and it's unfair to hold it to normal standards of evidence. The idea that criticizing religion is inherently rude and intolerant. The "Shut up, that's why" arguments so commonly marshaled against atheists: arguments meant not to address questions about religion, but to silence them. When coupled with the fact that the core belief is by definition unverifiable, these layers armor religion even more effectively against valid questions ... thus undermining our ability to see when it's become comically absurd, or wildly implausible, or grotesquely immoral. Or all three.

I want to give some specific examples of how this armor works. I want to talk about some of the most common -- and most harmful -- ways that religion causes harm. And I want to show how the invisible, unprovable, "don't show me the money" nature of religion either causes that harm or makes it worse.

The Armor of God

Inspiring political oppression.

Religious extremists -- whether the Taliban in the Islamic world or the Christian Right here in the States -- don't care about separation of church and state. They don't care about democracy. They don't care about respecting other people's right to live differently from them. In very extreme cases, they don't care about law, or basic principles of morality, or even human life.

None of this matters to them. What matters is making God's will happen. In their mind, God created everything that exists... and therefore, God's will trumps everything.

And since God's will is invisible, inaudible, and entirely unverifiable, there's no reality check on this dreadful path. There's no reality check saying that their actions are having a terrible effect in the world around them. The world around them is, quite literally, irrelevant. The next world is what matters. And since there's no way to conclusively demonstrate what will and won't get you a good place in that world, or whether that world even exists... the sky's the limit. There's no way to test the assertion that God wants women to wear burqas and have clitoridectomies... or that God wants us to ban same-sex marriage and teach children dangerous lies about sex. The reality check is absent. The brake lines of morality have been cut.

Perpetuating political oppression.

The unverifiability of religion leads to political oppression in another way. It makes religious leaders and organizations uniquely powerful in the political arena -- because their followers are typically taught from a young age to implicitly believe whatever their religious leaders say. They are taught that their religious leaders have superior virtue, with a hotline to God and his all-perfect morality. Indeed, they've been taught that trusting their religious leaders is a great virtue, and that asking them to support their claims with evidence is a grave insult: not only to the leaders, but to the entire faith, and even to God himself.

Here's a specific example of this one.

In the United States, when same-sex marriage has been up for popular vote, it has, as of this writing, never, ever won. It has been consistently defeated at the ballot box, even when a well-organized, well-funded campaign has been behind it. It has been consistently defeated at the ballot box largely because the full force of several organized religions, especially the Catholic and Mormon churches, have been marshaled against it. It has been defeated because these churches have been willing to tell grotesque, shameless lies about the effects of same-sex marriage -- from "churches will be forced to perform weddings they oppose" to "kids will be taught explicit gay sex in public school."

And it has been defeated because the followers of these churches implicitly trust their leaders. When faced with a newspaper editorial saying, "Same-sex marriage won't affect public education" -- and their beloved priest saying, "Same-sex marriage means your children will be taught about gay oral sex in third grade" -- they believe their priest.

Even though their priest is lying through his teeth.

And because religion has no reality check, it is extraordinarily difficult to counter its flat-out lies... because ultimately, its claims rest on an unverifiable belief in an invisible God, who has yet to appear on CNN stating his political views. And when you combine this lack of reality check with the unquestioning trust in religious leaders, you have a recipe for religion to have grossly disproportionate power in the political arena. A power that is uniquely armored against questions about what really works to improve life and alleviate suffering and create justice in this world -- the questions that politics are supposed to be about.

Succumbing to political oppression.

In the same way that religion's unverifiability means there's no check on oppressing other people, it means there's no check on people accepting their oppression. At the hands of religion, or anything else.

If people believe they'll be rewarded with infinite bliss in the afterlife -- and there's no way to prove whether or not that's true -- people will let themselves be martyrs to their faith, to an appalling degree. More commonly, if people believe in infinite bliss in the afterlife, they'll be more willing to accept an appalling degree of oppression and injustice in this life. From anybody. Oddly, this is often framed as a plus -- "Religion gives people hope in hardship" -- but I fail to see how encouraging oppressed people to suck it up until they get pie in the sky is a good thing. For the oppressed, anyway. Why it's good for the oppressors is crystal clear.

Again: Because it's a belief in invisible beings and events and judgments that happen after people die, religion short-circuits our reality checks. Including the reality check that looks at how we're being treated and says, "This is bullshit."

Justification for violence and war.


But more so.

In the same way that religion drowns out the reality check saying that oppression and injustice is wrong, it drowns out the reality check saying that hurting and killing people is wrong.

And the untestable belief in the afterlife is the biggest obstacle to this reality check. If you believe in a perfect eternal afterlife... then who cares about pain and death in this world? Compared with the eternal bliss/ torture of Heaven or Hell, pain and death in this world is a stubbed toe. Isn't carrying out God's will more important than a stubbed toe?

Kill them all. Let God sort it out.

Vulnerability to fraud.

When people are taught that believing things without proof or evidence makes you a good person, they become far more vulnerable to fraud, manipulation, and deception.

Not just from religious figures. Not just from phony faith healers and prosperity gospel preachers and authors of bestselling psychic self-help books. (Although them, too.)

From everybody. From every Ponzi schemer and Nigerian email scammer and shady purveyor of Florida real estate.

When people are taught to let go of difficult questions and trust whatever religious authorities tell them; that it's better to trust their feelings than their critical thinking skills; that evidence and reason are less important than faith; that "doubter" is a synonym for "sinner"... they become vulnerable to every cheater, chiseler, swindler, con artist, and late night infomercial huckster who's lucky enough to cross their gullible paths. The idea that belief without evidence is a virtue doesn't just inspire people to trust their religious leaders blindly. It inspires people to trust anybody blindly. Including people who are trying to rob them blind.

Quashing science and education.

Do I even need to explain this one? Do I need to explain how the untestability of religion -- and the idea that untestability is a positive virtue -- undercuts science and education?

Not just in a general, "making people value science and education less" way -- but in specific, practical, harmful ways? Hamstringing stem cell research? Forcing abstinence-only sex education on kids? Teaching creationism in public schools?

When religion teaches that believing in the invisible is more important than understanding the perceivable... that personal faith is more important than critical thinking... that letting go of questions is a liberating act of love and trust... that believing things with no evidence is not only okay but a positive virtue... that unfalsifiable hypotheses are just ducky... that what God supposedly says about the world is more real what's in the world itself...

Do I need to explain this any further? Do I need to explain how the "Facts take a back seat to faith" trope hammers science and education into the ground?

Terrorizing children.

And again, we come to the matter of priorities.

If we prioritized this life, we would never terrorize children by telling them they'll be tortured in fire forever if they don't obey our rules. We would never tell them to imagine putting their hands in a fire, to imagine the crackling and burning and screaming pain... and then to imagine doing that for a minute. An hour. A day. A lifetime. Eternity.

Not unless we were horribly abusive.

But when people think the next life is more important than this one -- when people think the infinite burning and torture is really going to happen if their children don't obey God's word -- they'll gladly give their children nightmarish visions of pain and torture, dispensed by the Fatherly God who supposedly created them and loves them. They'll do it without a second thought. When people prioritize their belief in an afterlife that, by definition, is impossible to prove or disprove, they effectively cut the reality check begging them to not terrorize and emotionally abuse their own children.

Teaching children about hell is child abuse. Nothing but the unverifiable promise of permanent bliss or torture in the afterlife would make loving, decent, non-abusive parents inflict it on their children.

I could go on, and on, and on. I could talk about justification for bigotry. The quashing of medicine and public health. Individual abuses by religious leaders: financial, and sexual, and otherwise. But I think you get the idea.

Yes, Even Moderate Religion Still Does Harm

Now, many believers will argue that the harm done by religion isn't religion's fault. Many will point out all the wars, bigotry, fraud, oppression, quashing of science and medicine, and terrorizing of children done for reasons other than religion. And many will argue that, even when this stuff is done in the name of religion, it isn't really inspired by religion at all. It's inspired by greed, fear, selfishness, the hunger for power, the desire for control... all the things that lead people to do evil.

And they'll have a point. I'm not saying that religion is the root of all evil. I'm not arguing that a world without religion would be a blissful Utopia where everyone holds hands and chocolate flows in the streets. (And then we all die, because the chocolate is drowning us and we can't swim because we're holding hands.) I don't know of any atheist who'd argue that. I know that the impulses driving evil are deeply rooted in human nature, and religion is far from the only thing to inspire it.

I'm saying that religion provides a uniquely stubborn justification for evil. I'm saying that religion is uniquely armored against criticism, questioning, and self-correction... and that this armor protects it against the reality checks that act, to a limited degree and in the long run, to keep evil in check. I'm saying that religion takes the human impulses to evil, and cuts the brake line, and sends them careening down a hill and into the center of town.

Yes -- even moderate religion. Not to nearly the same degree as extreme religion, of course. If all religion were moderate, ecumenical, separate from government, supportive of science, and accepting of non-belief... well, atheists would still disagree with it, but most of us wouldn't much care.

But moderate religion still does harm. It still encourages people to believe in invisible beings, inaudible voices, intangible entities, undetectable forces, and events and judgments that happen after we die. And therefore, it still disables reality checks... making people more vulnerable to oppression, fraud, and abuse.

What's more, moderate religion is in the minority. The oppressive, intolerant, reality-denying forms of religion are far more common, and far better at perpetuating themselves. And moderate religion gives these ugly forms credibility. It gives credibility to the idea that believing in things there's no reason to believe is valid, and actually virtuous. It gives credibility to the idea that invisible worlds are real, more real and important than the visible one. It gives credibility to the idea that our seriously biased personal intuition is more trustworthy than logic or verifiable evidence. It gives credibility to the idea that religious beliefs, alone among all other ideas, should be beyond criticism; that the very act of questioning religion is inherently intolerant. (It also, I've found, has a distinct tendency to get hostile and decidedly un-moderate towards non-believers when questioned even a little.)

Without religion, we would still have community. Charity. Social responsibility. Philosophy. Ethics. Comfort. Solace. Art. In countries where less than half the population believes in God, these qualities and activities are all flourishing. In fact, they're flourishing a lot more than they are in countries with high rates of religious belief.

We don't need religion to have any of these things.

And we'd be better off without it.

Love, Joy, Feminism

Last week I discovered a delightful and intelligent blog by a very brilliant, liberated woman Libby Anne: Love, Joy, Feminism.

Libby Anne describes her experience as from a happy Quiverfull home (isn't that an oxymoron?!), dedicated to her beliefs, but woefully unprepared for the diversity and critical thinking she began to discover in college. She is one of the lucky ones, but had to fight to get where she is.

Her story, and others like it, touch me deeply. I really feel for these women, and I am filled with hate at the patriarchal beliefs that rob young women of their potential. I relate very closely to many parts of her story... like her, I was completely well trained and thought I had all the answers; I didn't start to unravel until college. For me, and I think Libby Anne too, a large part of that was simply exposure to People Different From Us--gays, liberals, atheists, people with tattoos, people who have sex, etc.--that opened our eyes to seeing that all those Others are real people, and usually good people. Naiveté and brainwashing are unbelievably powerful things! The real world, critical thinking and scientific evidence tend to shoot holes in religious extremism pretty quickly, thankfully.

I encourage you to read her blog. Learn from it, and share!


Monday, January 30, 2012

An Atheist Goes to Church!

That's right, folks. I've seen the light. I'm going to Mass tonight!


Well, I am going to Mass, but it is for a funeral remembrance. My grandma passed away two and a half weeks ago, I am sad to say. Her funeral was out of state, but the Mass is today and it is local. Of course I went to the funeral. But I've debated on going to this or not, for a variety of reasons... in the end I decided to suck it up and go, for the sake of family unity. If you've read my posts before, you are probably somewhat acquainted with my familial situation (to sum it up, they are all hardcore Catholics and have essentially estranged me because a) I'm divorced b) I got a boyfriend before I had my annulment c) I am now living with said boyfriend and d) I'm... *gasp*... no longer Catholic. They didn't even wait around long enough to find out that I am an atheist, to boot, but surely they've picked up some hints over the past couple of years. Anyway. Since my grandma's passing they have been marginally better. I even got an apology from my brother! That is a huge deal--as big as if the earth started spinning backwards. Or Michael Jackson being black again. Or JFK being, y'know, not assassinated.

They are still pretty insane, especially my mother, but that's a whole 'nother can of beans.

There is a good possibility that I will get called out on my not receiving the eucharist by the priest. This is the priest who has baptized all 6 of the children, performed my uncle's last rights, did my grandma's confession/communion/confirmation, aaaaaand who married me. So I guess you could say he is the family priest. Oh, this is going to be so much fun.

Everything has been really crazy and stressful lately, and there are several things I have been wanting to talk about that I have not had time to post. This is the first time I have had an experience with death since becoming an atheist, and I want to write about what that was like, especially in contrast to the experience as a Catholic theist. Coming very soon.


Thursday, January 5, 2012

Review and Ad that Shows Parenthood Sucks

I was reading an article by childfree psychologist Ellen Walker yesterday, Are There Disadvantages to Being Childfree?

I've read some of her other articles and liked them, but I did not care for this one at all. She lists 5 possible disadvantages to being childfree:

  • Being a misfit among ones peers
  • Increased need for social support
  • Needing to plan one's estate more carefully
  • Too much free time
  • Need to identify meaning in life

    ...and I disagree with them all. I'll review each one in brief detail, but first I want to share the inadvertent irony I noticed. It wasn't till after reading the article that I paid attention to the advertisement on the right hand side:

    Hmmm... if it's a disadvantage to not experience my daughter turning to drugs and alcohol at an alarming rate, sign me up! It's ads like these that reveal that parenting truly sucks.

    Back to Walker's list of disadvantages to being childfree:

    Being a misfit among ones peers. This just does not resonate with me at all. I care very little what other people think about my choices. It would be a waste of my life to worry about that. But if I did, I suppose I could make an effort to surround myself with peers who also do not have children, but I just don't care that much. If they treated me poorly that would be different, but as a rule I am not friends with people who are judgmental snobs, parents or not. Like Walker, I usually have very little in common with stay at home mothers, and struggle to even make interesting conversation. I usually find them to be very boring, uninspiring people. But feeling like a misfit? Hell no. Different, sure. It's different in a good way, though; I have more time, money, sleep, energy, and creativity than my parented peers. My life is so much better that theirs (in my opinion), and I enjoy the choice I made.

    Increased need for social support. She has a point here, but I see no social support that cannot be gotten from friends or paid assistants. In fact, I think it's really wrong to expect my children to be built-in helpers when I am sick, injured or old. Children aren't a guaranteed safety net. I think that due to the fact that I will have more time, money and energy to take care of myself, in general I will need less social support anyway. And I would never trade my life for parenting as insurance for bad days.

    Needing to plan one's estate more carefully. Ehhhh...not so much. I don't need to plan it more carefully, I just need to plan it differently. Instead of giving my assets to my children, they will be left to my spouse, nieces and nephews, friends or charity. I'll have thousands more to leave them. This is really a non-issue.

    Too much free time. What?! This makes no sense! How is that a disadvantage? My free time is spent working, getting enough sleep, traveling, learning, reading and enjoying life. I could never possibly run out of things to do. Walker even says,
    When interviewing adults without kids for my book, I expected to find that people were bored with too much time on their hands, but this was simply not the case. These childfree adults were busy with hobbies, careers, and personal relationships, plus they had more time for healthy meal preparation, exercise, and sleep.

    Bored? No way! I have no patience for people who are bored, whether they have kids or not. If you're bored, it means you have no imagination, no desire to learn and explore, and you need to change your life. If you're bored, you are letting yourself be a victim and I have no respect for that way of life. If you're bored, get off your ass and do something, learn something, make something happen.

    Need to identify meaning in life. Oh, please. Walker is right in the sense that we all need to understand who we want to be as people and to know what we want from life. But I take offense at the suggestion that if you're not a parent, you have to work really hard to fill in the gaps and find a way to define yourself. For the childfree, there is nothing missing and there are no gaps. We make our own meaning in life, and obviously we place a higher value on titles other than Mother and Father!

    *sigh* I was disappointed by this article. I agree that there are differences and consequences to choosing to be childfree, but this article makes me have the sense that Walker feels like some things are missing from her life. All of her disadvantages I see as either positives, or neutrals with better alternatives out there.