Monday, January 14, 2013

The faithful do not allow me to keep my atheism to myself

In my many encounters with theists and some atheists, I have been asked why I devote a portion of my life to talking about, debating, and critiquing religion. The subject matter is engaging and so are its  implications/applications. The religious do not allow me to keep my atheism to myself. I cannot pick up the paper, get on the internet or turn on the news without seeing theocratic factions encroaching on free societies.

There are plenty of believers who find my opposition to theism to be from a place of poor taste and I would agree if I did something like following sentence.  It would be unkind of me to visit the local hospitals and preach to the faithful as they lay in their death beds that their god is not real. Clearly, I’m in complete violation of my social license and I ought to be rebuked for such ugly behavior but very many in the ranks of the faithful are far too eager to lecture others about the goodness of their god in a time of tragedy and pain. You may believe whatever you wish but why must I hear about it?

They say that many believers are not as educated or intelligent as I. It appears they think I am behaving as some kind of intellectual snob. Who am I to say anything about what brings other people comfort and hope? Why sneer at the gods and prestidigitators of the common folk? After all, the common folk have nothing else. Their lives are in shambles, they lack access to vital things/institutions and religion/God is what fills the void. While they live their present life in the leaky basement filled with rats, disease, and pestilence, religion/God gives them hope. Within that hope, their putrid lives have meaning and importance. Their current state of suffering is only temporary and they will be rewarded with an afterlife full of abundance, happiness, joy, and goodness. God will alleviate their plight when he stretches his loving embrace from the Heavens to call his children home. While they may be broken vessels which cannot be perfected in their bodies, if they remain humble and faithful, God will see fit to mitigate their suffering as long as they ask. His mercy will rain down and the beautiful breezes of his eternal love will envelope his followers as he carries them home.

But is not there where intellectual snobbery rears its head? The people who utter such noxious screeds are not “common people”. They distinguish themselves by claiming they are too cultured and sophisticated to believe in creationism and all that jazz, and simultaneously they claim I have no right to speak on religion/god. They opt for preaching obedience in the presence of immense suffering. It's pernicious and cynical.The prescription reeks of condescension. It is espoused by those who claim to be spokespersons on behalf of the god, all while they suffer the least. If the task of the educated is to keep quiet about what makes or keeps the common folk comfortable and happy, then I shun the task. When you say it does not matter whether the religion is true or that the god is real but it is the nightlight(it’s not lit up and quite possibly, in your broken state, you have to find it) in the room of darkness and despair, the darkness and despair still dominate the room.  Asking me to pipe down over such an alarming concession is not feasible. It is an exercise in vulgar, cheap, and tasteless thoughts to suggest the very real suffering which happens daily is part of some divine plan. Such positions are spouted uncritically and wantonly by the faithful. I do not come from a place of arrogance when I demand that theists and others develop better standards for holding their beliefs. Simply because it makes you feel good or it is a belief possessed by your friends, parents, or is part of your cultural background is not good enough. It is a demand which can be met head on with honesty and dedication. The pushers of faith appeal to solipsism and that kind of vacuous nonsense up with which I will not put.

As long as the faithful continue to demand preferential treatment within the public school system (science and history), lobby to avoid taxation by the government and have the audacity to try to influence policy which dictates law, then I will be obligated to speak and do something about it. The faithful can have their faith even though I do not think they need it but if they insist on waving it around in public, I cannot remain silent. I suggest you speak out too.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Inviting a Nuisance; I can't stay out of trouble.

On Thursday, I had an exit interview for a Women's Studies class. I arrived on campus about an hour before the interview. I found a nice chair, sat my ass down, and combed through one of my books. As I was doing that, 2 women, 1 Asian, 1 Black, approached me with caution and I believed they were about to ask me for directions. I did not notice the set up until after both women scurried off. The Asian woman walks up and spoke with a soft tone such that I or anyone they approach would lower my/your defenses and the Black woman is the bullhorn and is ready to offer a rebuttle if she is prompted. I'm asked for a moment of my time and since I had some time to kill, I granted the request. The Asian woman asks me "Are you a Christian"? I replied "No". She asks "Do you belong to another religion"? I said "No". She asks "Are you spiritual"? Again, "No". She looked confused and with each passing "no", she leaned her body away from me. I wanted to clear up her confusion and I told her I'm an atheist.

Meanwhile the Black woman is sitting in a chair next to me and playing on her iphone but when she heard me say I'm an atheist, she suddenly sprang to life (is there an app for that?). She screamed, "REALLY, WHY"? At that point, I was a little bewildered. Her loudness prompted a crowd of students and custodial workers to tune in to the festivities. By that time, the Asian woman was looking at me as though I was about to burst into flames. I explained to both women that I'm an atheist because I have/had not seen or been presented with any compelling evidence in favor of their God. the Black woman says "well scientists believe.....", and before she could finish, I said "I don't care what scientists believe. Simply because some may believe, that in and of itself is not evidence in favor of the existence of that god". She said "okay", and for a brief moment I thought the discussion may be fruitful. She asked me if she showed me the evidence for the existence of her god would I then believe. I held out my hand, smiled and said "give it to me". Instead of presenting me with evidence she said "The Bible says....", and I had to put a stop to her.

Why should I privilege the Bible over other "religious" texts? And the Bible is the source of a claim, not the proof of/for it. Confusion rears its head again. The Asian woman is about to perform an exorcism on me and the Black woman is flustered but trying to put forth a cogent reason but failing. She reaches for history, prophecy, and in both cases her claims were so murky and fallacious, I told her to "fix the fallacies". I told both women, I have read the Bible from cover to cover. I enjoy reading the Bible, just like I enjoy reading the Odyssey. Then I was told I read the Bible incorrectly. Can one of you good people tell me how it's supposed to be read? (I didn't say that to them) Both women were so uncomfortable that they both said "it's clear you are strong in your beliefs" (I had not stated a single belief I possess), and they RAN OFF. I had a nice chuckle to myself and the crowd enjoyed it too. The custodial workers told me that those women approach people in the building all of the time. I'm aware of the men who preach in Woodruff Park and yell to students and faculty about our impending doom and how we're destined for hell, but they usually don't walk up to you and if they do, a well placed finger and a "fuck off" does the trick.

This exchange is an example of Christian/religious privilege. Believing in a god, no matter how you define it, can be used as a social license to annoy other people. I understand they were trying to fulfill their obligation as stated in 1st Peter 3:15, and they have a legal right to be on campus, but when you cannot satisfy the demand put forth to you, that's when you should tip your cap and move on with the show. I'm in the Bible belt and both women assumed I believed in some "higher power". They thought they'd have a friendly venue to spread their version of good news and they did have a friendly venue........but they were met with questions and a demand for evidence. When they could not offer it, they decided to press the point with fallacious appeals, obfuscation, and bullshit, but they are can do it because their position is the majority one to hold and they expected compliance and received tempered resistance. Of course I play a role in this whole deal too. I could have told them to buzz off sooner and I incorrectly assumed they were just "lost". But then you would not have this post to read.

Moral of the story; when you cannot prove your case, SHUT UP.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Racism still exists in America? White people, come get this man.

Yes. I did not think I would have to ask that question but as I continue to study and have conversations with people I find plenty who think racism has disappeared into the night. The prevailing ignorance is centered amongst a number of factors, but I want to focus specifically on one; the election of Barack Obama in 2008. In my interactions with a lot of White people, and experiences imparted to me by a number of Black and White colleagues, the notion of “we have overcome” pops up. What I mean by that is that the election of ONE Black man to the highest political office in this country (and perhaps the world, depending on whom you ask), has brought us out of racism. We finally slayed the beast known as racism and everything is okay. Now we can hold hands, talk about how much we all love Martin Luther King, and maybe play a little Gladys Knight in the background. Sounds silly doesn’t it? The era of post-racial America has emerged (read sarcastically) but the endeavor is wholly short-sighted. The goal should be a post-racist America but I doubt it will ever be achieved.  

The following is brought to you by the letter R. Think Sesame Street.

As I was sitting in the doctor’s office, an older, early 50s, White male came in and sat next to me. The television in the waiting area was tuned in to Fox News and this particular gentleman became very chatty. The usual chit chat about what you do professionally, how long you’ve been in Atlanta, etc, are formalities but what has increased is the need to tell me what you think of Obama. The gentleman continues with “I don’t mean this to sound racist, but I don’t like Obama”. “It’s not a Black thing, but I feel like he doesn’t understand my country.” First, do you KNOW the man to say that? Has Obama come to your home and slapped you across the face? Second, YOUR COUNTRY?? Third, what’s up with the qualifiers? Maybe he thought I would beat his ass. I responded with a simple question, “Why?” The man claimed that Obama does not share the correct vision for America. He said Obama does not understand America is built upon individual liberty and ingenuity. The man is correct with respect to ingenuity. America was very clever in enforcing and legislating chattel slavery, specifically with the slave codes of 1793 as one example, to the continued disfranchisement of Black people in the North and South, and even to the segregation of military forces which inspired numerous calls to action by Black leaders in 1940 with regards to treatment, placement in posts, benefits, etc. The individual liberty belief is laughable, historically inaccurate, and flat out bullshit but conservative (and I mean that in the worst way you can imagine) White male historians, and those who wish to present historic fiction, love to push the individual liberty myth. The man went on to opine that he knows a number of Black people, whom he calls friends, who know the REAL truth about America and share his passion for this country. I nodded and thought to myself “this man represents a large number of Americans, and we are fucked.” I did not have time to knock down every single one of his statements but I did leave him with one question; how can you talk about this country being built on individual liberty when slavery was codified into law which dictated public policy?


Recently, an Arkansas representative made some racist ass comments about Black people being better off because of slavery. Benevolent slavery if you will. John Sununu, a senior advisor to the Romney campaign, suggested that Colin Powell’s endorsement of Barack Obama was done solely because Obama is Black. If that’s true, Powell should have endorsed only half of Obama but let’s not be too technical. Such commentary is meant to undervalue Powell as a man and to render his remarks as complete hogwash. The move is part of a concerted effort which has historical antecedents that aims to devalue Black life. This is not the first time nor will it be the last that some racist ass White dude says some foolish and racist shit about slavery or about Black people. The historical record reflects such attitudes in newspapers, law, public policy, misuse and abuse of science/medicine, literacy tests, etc. If you are shocked by the seemingly upfront and boisterous attitude by these racist people, I suggest you do some research. Go on over to the Auburn Avenue Research Library here in Atlanta, and you will see exactly what I am talking about. It’s not new and the only thing that has changed is the cast of characters and the technology that is used to present the beliefs. 

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Hell Naw to Alternative Medicine

The following is a reply to a discussion group after a talk about health disparities and alternative/holistic medicines and therapies. 

The alternative medicine talk at the end of class made me want to jump out of my skin. Yes, there are alternative remedies and therapies for ailments which plague us. In the face of crises it is very common to reach for the simplest method to deal with a disease. Economic instability, governmental policy, the lack of access to viable and proven treatments etc all plays a role when an alternative remedy is suggested. Suffering is a part of the human experience and alternative therapies are meant as a response to that suffering. The question is do they really work? Is there a body of evidence which suggests the alternative therapies in question, no matter what they are, mitigate or eliminate the suffering of the individual or group? Many who have tried holistic/alternative remedies report positive results. They report feeling better as a result of those therapies. Upon further review of their medical history, it is often discovered that they have tried proven methods concurrently and/or consecutively with unproven methods. They may not report that aspect, not out of deception, but due to confirmation bias or just misreporting the events.  We have to be very careful to not mistake correlation for causation. Plenty of folks have claimed the ailment they possess just magically stopped. Diseases have life cycles as they are living organisms. We may not always determine why a disease may have stopped mutating but that in no way lends any credibility to any holistic/alternative methods. The person really wants the alternative therapies to be the cause of improving their condition. Wanting the methods to work is much different than showing that the methods have actually worked, and that those are methods useful in explaining the disease, and how it may function in patients in the future.

I understand the mistrust directed at the pharmaceutical, medical, government, and scientific communities. A lot of people have misused powerful positions to promote nonsense, quackery, racism, sexism, patriarchy, and outright bullshit. The Tuskegee Experiment was mentioned in class. Yes, it was a terrible event perpetrated by unscrupulous persons in the medical field and the government. The aftermath of that event brought about the creation of the National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research which was the first public national body to shape bioethics policy in the United States. On the heels of a tragedy, it took the actions of good people who were willing to demand change, and get it done to prevent such an event from happening again. It is a call to action to be watchdogs and take the message to the global arena.

I can empathize with the frustration a person may feel when dealing with an illness, and seeing a doctor and little to no improvement is achieved over a significant amount of time. But that does not mean we ought to promote alternative methods in lieu of frustration and lack of resources. It means we have to have a serious dialogue and plan of action about how we live, how we allocate resources, talk to medical communities, and learn about diseases. We have to talk to each other and teach one another about our health and the systems which support it. I am advocating for a social transformation instead of alternative remedies. I concede the view may be utopian but I think it’s far better than dealing with homeopathy, chakras, reflexology, chiropractors, acupuncturists, Ouija boards, and every other form of chicanery which makes a ton of claims but when asked for evidence they fail to produce results. It’s not just a disagreement. It’s about the lack of evidence for the claims presented and quite often ignoring evidence which disconfirms the alternative method and promoting therapies which fall outside of the consensus. Not only is that wrong, it is also dangerous. 

Friday, October 12, 2012

Why I no longer say the N word; Musings from a Black Atheist

I struggled with this blog post for a few weeks. I was not sure how I wanted to articulate my thoughts, and feelings about such a destructive word. I know context matters, but in the case of that word, no context can excuse the usage of it. I am disheartened every time I see a Black person use the word, and create all kinds of justifications to excuse current and future usage. When White people use the N word, some Black folks defend White folks and say “it’s just a word”. No it’s not. Recent history tells us just how deep the N word has permeated our society. I cannot walk down the street, go to the grocery store, or walk into an elementary school lunchroom, and not hear the N word. I think it is time for a major change.

In order to change the culture, we must destroy everything with the N word on it. We need to get federal and state funding for programs to situate chronic users and consumers of the N word back into civil society. I would have loved to see President Obama and Mitt Romney talk about this pressing issue. I present this to you because I love my country and my fellow human beings. I want their mental health and physical health to be as sound as possible. Some folks need to be protected from themselves. I thought long and hard about this, plus I did the research. The N word is crushing our economy, our shared humanity, and our sense of self. I propose a federal law to outlaw the N word and harsh punishments ought handed out to states and cities who create safe havens for N word users.

I no longer say the N word. I find the word to be a tool of dehumanization. When uttering the word, I reveal a dark part of my character, and I become uncivil as do all others who use the word. Today is the last day I use the N word. Nutella will be banned from my vocabulary, my twitter feed, and my home. I hope you join me, and do the same. 

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Creationism and the Fraud of the 2 sides mantra.

Check out a real scientist and 2 "creation scientists". Notice how the other 2 do their best to try to poke holes in evolution. The only people who say evolution is unproven or lacking proof/missing links are people who are not in the field, do not understand the explanations/evidence, argue from ignorance/fraudulent appeals among other things. Instead of trying to knockdown evolution, develop a model which co-insides with the evidence to explain observable phenomena and stop trying to make the evidence fit with a personally satisfying conclusion. The other 2 do have Ph.D's and you may want to give them instant credibility because of that, but check out their explanations within the field of evolutionary biology with respect to the people and evidence within that field. Beware of quote mining by the the first guy in the second video. If you forget to ask critical questions, you may begin to worship.

Alternative Narratives: A Quick Breakdown of Conspiratorial Nuttery.

Please check out the article above and the article at the end of this post. I am addressing the 5 sections in the first piece. 

Check out the "us" vs "them" pitch line very early on, the supposed mockery (much of it is deserved) but this person/group is suggesting mockery is all that they and their fellow compatriots receive (untrue), and the appeal that they have already won but have failed to present a compelling case with solid reasons and evidence. 

1. Note the beginning of the narrative with respect to the 3 dimensions listed. 

A. The cosmic dimension, which the author just puts out there like you and I should know what the fuck he is talking about, is not evidence against the "official" story. It operates solely as her/his opinion about why a lot of people are unwilling to adopt the alternate explanation of the events of 9/11 by the truthers.  

B. Social; No evidence is presented towards debunking the official story. Instead the author claims the skeptics of the 9/11 truth movement do not want to be associated with the conspiracy theorists because they do not want to look crazy. It's a damn good concern in my view, but perhaps they do not want to be associated with people who make a ton of claims regarding a catastrophic event but fail to produce evidence for such claims. That's not mockery. It's making sure you do not uncritically accept any explanation for events or phenomena without solid reasons/evidence presented to you. 

C. Death; the narrative is extremely funny to me. Surely the people who put out the official story could find out what this person is posting and come get him and put him to death for exposing them, right? It's particularly stupid for the author to post it but the person gets to act like a hero for doing what other people are afraid to do. No evidence against the official story is presented there either. 

2. Ignorance; Seen any evidence against the official explanation? I have yet to see it. Other than claiming some ominous blackout of the REAL evidence (which itself is a knowledge claim for which he/she needs to produce evidence to warrant acceptance), the author is just bitching. There is also talk of laziness due to the rejection of whatever version of 9/11 truther nonsense he/she accepts. In other words you need to disprove whatever she/he believes and their explanation stands until knocked down. This person has assumed the truth of their conclusion already. If you do not accept their hypothesis, you are ignorant. They need to produce evidence. See the theme? 

3. False Superiority/Knowledge; this part begins with an outright falsehood. Simply because we do not accept what you say because you said it does not mean we are hostile in any way to new information/knowledge. The author makes a comment about the article not judging you. I do not think the person realizes the whole post is just that. It's a judgment against those people who do not accept their hypothesis. Even if it were the case that I or anyone else were hostile to new information or knowledge, that alone is not proof of some grand cover-up by the United States government. The part about accepting new views is self-serving. The author is only open-minded to the extent of which she/he will accept new info/knowledge as long as it supports the desired conclusion. 

4. Brainwashing; In other words since I have yet to get produce a damn thing for what I think happened, there is a systematic campaign to dumb down the masses and cover up the real truth. In order for you to cleanse yourself, you need to step away from what the big evil powers that be are putting in front of you and accept my hypothesis instead. Yea. Okay. 

5. Cover up; I knew this one was coming down the line. Everybody is in on the whole thing including entire governments, media outlets, academia, and even your damn cat or dog. People like to talk. Someone would have snitched by now but if they had the conspiracy theorist would still claim victory. He/She would say "ah ha! I told you". If no one says anything "they are paid to keep quiet and we will never know the truth".

Check out the book plug at the end of the article. Just damn.