What I’m Reading, March 4, 2015

Beyoncé as Gateway to Satan? The Long, Strange History of Conservative Christian Panic Over Satanism, Evan McMurry, AlterNet, February 27, 2015

Last week, a priest in Ireland blared a severe warning about a dark practice that was surreptitiously leading people to the “Kingdom of darkness” where “Satan and the fallen angels” waited to prey upon them.

What nefarious activity had so insidiously masked its agency of darkness? Yoga.


Spotting links between Satanism and yoga and Harry Potter is both the ridiculous result and the natural continuation of a decades-old practice of spying Satanism’s flag in the most innocuous segments of western culture, an evolving trend that functions as a map to the shifting class and gender anxieties beneath the culture wars.

What Christians Mean When They Use the Word “Atheist”, Neil Carter, Ex-Communications, February 19, 2015 Continue reading


Satire Has Nothing on Actual Right-Wing Publications

If I wanted to lampoon overblown right-wing rhetoric, I might write a mock children’s book entitled Help! Mom! There Are Liberals Under My Bed!

Someone already beat me to the punch, except they’re apparently not kidding.

Screen Shot 2015-02-10 at 10.30.26 PM

This full-color illustrated book is a fun way for parents to teach young children the valuable lessons of conservatism. Written in simple text, readers can follow along with Tommy and Lou as they open a lemonade stand to earn money for a swing set. But when liberals start demanding that Tommy and Lou pay half their money in taxes, take down their picture of Jesus, and serve broccoli with every glass of lemonade, the young brothers experience the downside to living in Liberaland.

Good thing it’s “written in simple text.” That’s far from the best one, though. Check out Raising Boys Feminists Will Hate: Continue reading


What I’m Reading, February 9, 2015

Godless Parents Are Doing a Better Job, Tracy Moore, Jezebel, February 3, 2015

In an op-ed at the Los Angeles Times by sociologist Phil Zuckerman, you can read about a swath of studies that support what everyone who is “between churches” has known forever: Not believing in God isn’t synonymous with being amoral. If anything, it can give you a greater clarity about right and wrong, because you’re more likely to base it on empathy and decency than a guaranteed spot upstairs come Judgment Day.

In the 1950s, only 4 percent of Americans indicated they’d grown up in a secular household; today, 23 percent say they have no religious affiliation, Zuckerman writes, citing Pew research. They’re called “Nones,” or, you know, heathens, and that number is even higher (30 percent) among the 18- to 29-year-old set. So with more people than ever eschewing a reflexive belief in God, it seems as good a time as any to ask how that’s working out for us.

5 Bizarre Realities of Being a Man Who Was Raped by a Woman, Anonymous, Amanda Mannen, Cracked, January 30, 2015 Continue reading


What I’m Reading, December 16, 2014

The Comic-Book Guys Quivering in Fear of Cosplay, Noah Berlatsky, The Atlantic, December 10, 2014

The backlash to cosplay is in part guys trying to keep girls out of the male clubhouse. But in this context it can also be seen as feminized guys panicking at yet another in a long line of demonstrations that the male clubhouse isn’t all that male to begin with. You could argue that cosplay’s associations with fashion actually make it more highbrow than comics—the New York fashion runway and the New York gallery scene are more kin than either is to low pulp superhero comics. Cosplay is appropriating superheroes for art, much as pop art has done—and some in comics fear the results.

But they shouldn’t. The truth is that cosplay is not a continuation of pop-art denigration by other means. Instead, it’s an antidote. Pop art’s self-conscious manipulation of comics is only possible, or painful, in a world where comics defines its legitimacy in narrow terms. Lichtenstein is only an outsider co-opting comics if you insist on seeing Lichtenstein as something other than a comics artist himself. Cosplay—like the Batman TV series before it—could be a way for fans to be the pop artists: to cast aside the wearisome performance of legitimacy for a more flamboyant, less agonized fandom. Once you stop neurotically policing boundaries, the question of whether comics or superheroes are masculine or feminine becomes irrelevant. If superheroes and comics are for everyone, that “everyone” automatically includes people of all genders, wearing whatever they wish.

The Real Story Of Apollo 17… And Why We Never Went Back To The Moon, Andrew Liptak, io9, December 12, 2014 Continue reading


What I’m Reading, October 21, 2014

Schadenfreude: Not Just For Winners Anymore, Bette Noir, Rumproast, October 16, 2014

Heads are exploding all over the Conserva-sphere, today. Mostly because the owners of those heads don’t read very carefully.

CJ Chivers broke a story, in The New York Times, exposing a Bush administration and Pentagon coverup of the fact that US military troops were, with some frequency, stumbling upon, and in some cases being wounded by, chemical agents while deployed in Iraq.

Just the media source and a little bit of introductory information were enough to get the Right cackling with glee and spewing out delirious Bush Vindication blurbs. They were not all that troubled by the fact that some US soldiers have been damaged for life by their exposure to chemicals, or that those soldiers were sent into harm’s way without adequate training and protection against what the military knew was there. They were just so danged delighted to be able to say “See! Libtards, this is your own lamestream media spilling the story that our princeling was right all along. So bite me!”

Interestingly, a few caught the irony and said “hmmmmm, what’s The Times up to, here.” They were the smarter ones.

Why, Despite the Incredibly Discouraging Crap That’s Been Going On in Recent Weeks and Months and Years, I Still Have Hope for Organized Atheism, Greta Christina, Greta Christina’s Blog, October 15, 2014

There are also lots more women and people of color on the speakers’ circuit. When local groups invite visiting speakers, it’s not overwhelmingly white men on the podiums anymore. And women and people of color aren’t just being invited to speak about gender and race and diversity — we’re being invited to speak about Biblical history, about handling criticism in social media, about coming out as an atheist. Our voices are being heard. When we speak about our experience of our marginalization, and when we speak about our experience and knowledge about atheism or science or history or organizing, we’re being heard.

More importantly: There’s a shift in the activities that these local groups are involved in. There are local atheist groups, both off-campus and student groups, doing fundraising for women seeking abortions. Teaching English as a new language. Organizing protests against the Hobby Lobby decision. Organizing events for parents and families. Organizing events for children. Founding a secular humanist soup kitchen. And I strongly suspect that this shift in activities is at least partly responsible for the demographic shift — and is partly a result of it as well. Like I say when I give talks on diversity: Inclusivity is a self-perpetuating cycle. The more diverse a group gets, the more likely it is that they’ll get involved in projects that matter to a wider variety of people — and as the group gets more involved in projects that matter to a wider variety of people, it draws a wider variety of people. I don’t know this for sure, I’m not even sure how you would test it — but when I ask group leaders, this is what they commonly say. Either they started taking on more diverse projects as their group got more diverse, or their group got more diverse as they started taking on more diverse projects — or both.


What I’m Reading, June 10, 2014

The Art of the Hissy Fit, Digby, AlterNet, October 24, 2007

Ritual defamation and humiliation are designed to make the group feel contempt for the victim and over time it’s extremely hard to resist feeling it when the victims fail to stand up for themselves.

There is the possibility that the Republicans will overplay this particular gambit. Their exposure over the past few years for incompetence, immorality and corruption, both personal and institutional, makes them extremely imperfect messengers for sanctimony, faux or otherwise. But they are still effectively wielding the flag, (or at least the Democratic congress is allowing them to) and until liberals and progressives find a way to thwart this successful tactic, it will continue. At this point the conservatives have little else.

Hitchens, Dawkins and Harris Are Old News: A Totally Different Atheism Is on the Rise, Chris Hall, AlterNet, June 4, 2014

Continue reading


What I’m Reading, May 13, 2014

Gage Skidmore [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsPatton Oswalt Brilliantly Trolls for Twitter Outrage, Chez Pazienza, The Daily Banter, May 7, 2014

If it weren’t so hilarious it would be depressing. A little earlier this afternoon Patton Oswalt began trolling Twitter and the rest of the internet, trying to drum up outrage over nothing. Literally, nothing.

What he did was simple: He started posting tweets that referenced and apologized for tweets he says he deleted because they were offensive, but of course the “deleted tweets” weren’t real. They never were.

Chris McDougall: I Never Meant To Start A Barefoot-Running Fad, Jon Gugala, Fittish, May 7, 2014

In 2009, Chris McDougall published Born to Run, an account of his adventures in the remote canyons of Mexico. From his travelogue was birthed an industry-shifting movement that re-examined everything once accepted as gospel truth about running shoes. Continue reading


What I’m Reading, April 15, 2014

"Dragons famili" by mapazhe [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/)], via deviantARTHow We Won the War on Dungeons & Dragons, Annalee Newitz, io9, March 26, 2014

[U]nlike my fantasy of being a hot half-elf, the Christians actually had some control over our lives. My best friend got kicked out of Catholic school for playing D&D, which we counted as a win because it meant she could come to our shitty public school and play D&D with us. Outside our southern California town, however, D&D players weren’t getting off so easily. They were ostracized by their peers, kicked out of public schools, and sent to glorified reeducation camps by parents who feared their children were about to start sacrificing babies to Lolth the spider demon.

It sounds crazy in our world today, where there are Dungeons & Dragons movies and a rich game industry full of titles inspired by those old paper-and-dice games we played back in the twentieth century. One of the most popular shows on television, Game of Thrones, features plots that my friends and I might have cooked up back on that playground at lunch. Somehow, the popularity of epic fantasy and role playing overcame America’s fear of young people making up stories about monsters and gods.

The Cost Of Permission Culture: Or Why Netflix Streaming Library Sucks Compared To Its DVD Library, Parker Higgins, TechDirt, April 9, 2014

The problem is that, unlike earlier movie-rental options, streaming rights fall fundamentally within a permission culture. Netflix is a great illustration of what’s gone wrong here. It’s gone from having a nearly unrivaled catalog of films available to rent to being the butt of Onion jokes. What happened: It shifted from a system where nobody had a veto power over its operations, to one where it had to get permission and make deals with Hollywood. Sometimes it’s difficult to find the concrete costs of living in a permission culture, but the decline of Netflix’s selection is an important cautionary tale.

Physicist surprised to see himself in ‘documentary’ claiming the sun revolves around the earth, Robyn Pennacchia, Death and Taxes, April 8, 2014

Like any other Christian pseudoscience theory, geocentrism is built upon the premise that humans are special and earth is special and God made them special, so any science conflicting with that must be wrong. Like, probably Satan somehow made it look like the earth is really old and revolves around the sun just to destroy our self-esteem. The film makes this premise clear, with its suggested hashtag, #areyousignificant.

How Hatred of Islam Creates Strange Bedfellows of Christians and Atheists, CJ Werleman, AlterNet, April 11, 2014

Despite claims by David Silverman, president of the 501(c4) political lobby group American Atheists, atheism does not earn an atheist the title of freethinker. With very few exceptions, movement atheists are not. They’re parrots. Don’t believe me? Ask an atheist to opine on the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, and he or she will invariably wax lyrical about religious motivated violence, Islamic extremism and suicide bombers. In other words, expect a recital from atheist luminaries Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins and the late Christopher Hitchens.


Atheists, myself included, enjoy mocking religious fundamentalists for their inability to question authority or dogma. But very few atheists sound dissimilar to the aforementioned atheist heavyweights when it comes to assessing the roots of Islamic terrorism. In the aftermath of the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, American Atheists president Silverman tweeted, “Dear Peaceful Muslims: Sorry, but yet, that IS your Islam and your Prophet’s followers.” Silverman included the hashtag #IslamIsBarbaric. If you were told neo-con firebrand Ann Coulter had posted this careless tweet, you would have believed it.

No doubt, Harris (neuroscience) and Dawkins (evolutionary biology) are leaders in their respective fields. What they’re not is experts on terrorism and the Middle East. So movement atheism needs to stop pretending like they are, because the words of Harris, Dawkins and Hitchens serve only to make movement atheists sound like neo-conservatives, Zionists and the Christian Right, which ultimately makes seeking peace even harder to attain.

[Ed. note: The URL slug for the above article is “how-atheists-are-complicit-atrocities-and-oppression-palestinian-people.” Just thought that was worth noting.]

Photo credit: “Dragons famili” by mapazhe [CC BY 3.0], via deviantART.


The “Purpose” Argument

By ja:User:Sanjo (Own work (Own Photo)) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsThe “purpose” argument, as I call it, states that without God (or whatever deity, but it’s usually the standard-issue God of the Judeo-Christian tradition), life can have no purpose or meaning. My usual exasperated response is that anyone who thinks this way isn’t trying very hard, and it boggles the mind that atheists are supposed to be the cynical ones. Jerry Coyne offers an excellent response to a recent rehash of this argument, but Ed Brayton  explains why it’s just plain crap:

So what? It’s not an argument for why this god who provides us with meaning and purpose does exist, it’s an argument for why the person making it hopes such a god exists. If it does not, should we pretend it does and create some diving meaning and purpose that does not exist? Should we all just agree to tell a big lie? Or should we do what we have always done, whether one believes in such a god or not, and find meaning and purpose in the living of our lives?
The lack of some universal meaning or purpose does not mean that our lives don’t have meaning or purpose. It just means that we have at least some opportunity to determine meaning and purpose for ourselves rather than having some non-existent divine being decide it for us. And far from being a depressing fact, that is a liberating one.

I don’t know how it works for other people, but “belief,” such as it is, is not a choice for me. It’s something that requires evidence, reason, and compassion. I exist, and I have the capacity to make the world a better place for the people that I love, which includes myself. I have the opportunity to love, laugh, see beauty, eat cupcakes, and rub dogs’ bellies. The fact that I have only a limited time to do all of these things make the experiences more meaningful and purposeful, not less, because in all of the universe, the beauty I see, experience, and create is unique.

Saying that the world would be a better place if I believed in a particular god is a dubious proposition in and of itself, but it also says nothing whatsoever about whether that god is actually real. Besides that, it takes away from time we all could be spending living.

Photo credit: By ja:User:Sanjo (Own work (Own Photo)) [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons.


In the Name of Atheism

Dresden, zerstörtes Stadtzentrum

There were non-ideological reasons why World War II was so destructive. Bombs, for example.

The title to this post is intended to be a paradox, if that is even the right word. “Atheism,” in its most basic sense, denotes nothing more than a lack of belief in gods, supernatural forces, and so forth, in the absence of evidence. Atheism is therefore a “negative” viewpoint, in that it only addresses what a person does not believe. Atheism may, but by no means must, accompany “positive” views such as humanism or other philosophies, but by itself the word “atheism” has limited descriptive powers.

That does not stop others from ascribing traits to atheists as a whole, of course. (Part of this post is yet another re-phrasing of an irate Facebook comment, FYI.)

A Facebook commenter alerted me to an article on the website Evidence for God titled “What About Atrocities That Have Been Done in the Name of Religion?” It is yet another effort to move the goalposts on the question of evil in the world, and to cast aspersions on modern-day atheists by citing the activities of people more than half a century ago who may or may not have shared minute aspects of a worldview. The author begins, in the very first sentence, with a logical flaw: Continue reading