Wednesday, May 30, 2012

All theists are not stupid: Words Do Matter.

"All theists are stupid". Have you seen/heard that statement before? I hate statements like it and all others of similar makeup. Why? It's just not true. Simply because I as an atheist disagree with theists when it comes to their religious beliefs does not mean they are stupid or that I am smart. There is a major difference between saying "I do not think you are using your critical thinking skills in this area of your life/beliefs, like you do in all the other areas in which I am aware" and "You are religious? You must be stupid"!! I can easily make my criticisms of religion without beginning with name calling or acting as though I have cornered the market on rational thought/discourse. The problem with such generalizations is they are good ways in which to burn bridges with current or potential allies. Sure we may disagree when it comes to particular religious beliefs but we may work well together when it comes to education, transportation, helping others or even having a good beer together. We can have honest discussions about religious beliefs in terms of their applications, the affects those beliefs have on other beliefs, how they affect the action of the individual who holds them as well as the people around them, etc. What we do not have to do is begin with remarks of nastiness and be purposely mean. I do understand some theists fuse together their religious beliefs and who they are such that any criticism of their beliefs is automatically seen as a jab toward them. Even if you explain what you are targeting, the explanation may not reach the intended destination. You may become frustrated and if you do, I know I have, you let the discussion go. You tip your hat and go on with your business. Pick your battles wisely and words do matter. 

In some cases I think it is appropriate to be a dick to someone. I employ the method when someone else either lies, purposely misrepresents me or my words, involves people I care about in order to be nasty to me, or someone I know is trolling just because they can. Those types can be very annoying and quite frankly they are easy pickings when it comes to demonstrating a point. I will be a dick after I have presented my argument or asked questions and the other person decides to be disrespectful to me. I will walk away, block(online), push the keyboard away or call you a motha fucking asshole. Some people can be engaged with conversation and some cannot. 

"All atheists are rational". Yeah, bull shit. No particular group, no matter how large or small has the market of rationality, skepticism or critical thinking all to themselves. If you are an atheist who dares call religious people stupid and yet you have beliefs in the "power" of astrology, homeopathy, believe all sorts of conspiracy theories, hate women and gays, deny science when it highlights the absurdity of your passionate beliefs etc, how do you think you're any better than the label you give them? 

Calling people "sheep", "closed-minded", or "stupid" shows me you do not have or choose not to use better ways to demonstrate your point. If that is your "A" game, it is weak. Those words are automatic kill conversations and quite possibly can ruin any chance you have at building coalitions on shared beliefs/positions. I do not think theists are stupid but I do think they are wrong. If you insist on calling people stupid, you may burn a bridge that can never be rebuilt. No amount of apologizing can fix it. Be strong in your position but do not go out of your way to be an asshole to someone else. 

Side note: Some peoples notion of "respect" is so guarded that any discussion of their beliefs(in anything) is seen as disrespect. Such a notion should not be accepted as good. I once had a Philosophy professor tell me just how shitty a paper was written when I turned it in to him. Was he remarking on my overall personality or my other beliefs, my livelihood or my upbringing? No. He was targeting one specific thing and that thing only. 


Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Black Atheist; The Red Tape Edition

We all have a story to tell and share. Our backgrounds, socio-economic status, education, geographical region, parents, race, gender and many other factors have a role in determining how we transmit our own narrative. The descriptions we use do not exclude others from hearing, understanding, or sharing the narrative with other people but there are some who are completely unnerved by particular words. I tend to document my days as a former Christian in Black churches because I identify myself as a Black man. The previous sentence is seen by some as an attempt to remove myself from other people and that is simply untrue. If anything the descriptions within the sentence are indicators of my experience, what I think is important and how I plan to let you know about it. The words in no way tell you that I am more special, honest, caring, compassionate, intelligent, etc than those who do not use such words. I encourage you to document your experience in the way you see fit, despite the groaning from privileged folks. Removing race as some move toward a "higher" goal is completely unnecessary and by saying such you may be saying far more than you really want.

Race is a social construction:
That particular truth is used to make the further claim that "race is not needed and can be pushed aside". I disagree with the later and here's why. Simply pushing aside "race" does not change the minds or the actions of those who will still use race to negatively stereotype, mislabel and mistreat others. Doing away with the concept as a whole does not automatically fix the negative usage of the concept. Furthermore, there's a bit of conflation going on with those who wish to ditch the social construct. Negative usages of race is seen as the totality of all usage therefore it should be eradicated. That line of thought is false. Simply because some people go out of their way to misuse the concept for a set of reasons does not mean positive and meaningful usage should hit the road too. The best move is to target the negative usage and do what you can to diminish the power within it. Race is a social construction with real-world affects and implications. Those who want to get rid of the concept because of their conflation problem are generally not affected by race. Since they are not affected negatively, they attempt to police those who are and those who try to use the concept as something meaningful and positive. They think race is overdone, over-used, unimportant and say such things like "I don't see color and I value everyone" or "I see humans and not color". Unless you are actually colorblind, there's no reason to make such statements. If you are pissed off about negative usages of race, then get off your ass and do something about it but do not confuse negative uses with all uses.

Inclusion narratives:
Some people tend to think that using race is some kind of division mechanism which is made to keep us separate from one another and continued usage of the concept will drive us further apart. This is only true if you buy into the idea that using race actually divides people. The only people who are claiming to be divided are those who are privileged enough to not be affected by race. In order for them to be included in the discussion, everyone else MUST BE LIKE THEM, which is why particular descriptions are problematic. The inclusion narrative is not about you, but it's about them. Using certain words means you cannot get inside their bubble. You are making them uncomfortable because they have concocted an idea in their own head that in order for you to connect as human beings, particular words must be excluded. That's why charges of not being "inclusive" and "you are just turning people off and dividing them when you talk about race" are leveled. Notice the general move I made 2 sentences ago...."you to connect as human beings". The line has a substitution, wherein "human beings" actually means ME. Your story is you separating yourself from me. No it's not. Not once have I thought of a White person, a woman, or a homosexual who is telling me about their life and what has shaped them as some sort of enterprise on their part to separate themselves from me. You use the words that are most important to you for a set of reasons. Those words most likely have some kind of historical, social and possibly even political antecedents to them and for me to tell you to not use them is actually telling you to chop off essential features of you and your story.

This is not about whether we value other humans or not. This is totally about the red tape involved when documenting a particular experience with certain words because some people are walking around with erroneous assumptions.  The proposition is not some either or deal. You can easily appreciate a person who uses certain words, like their race, gender or sexuality, and not think they're making some call to exclusivity. The person is simply saying, "this is who I am and these words matter to me". The next time someone tries to tell you what to say or how to say it with regards to your particular experience, ask them why they think their tape is necessary. As far as I am concerned, I will continue to speak on gender and race and all of it's usage and target the bad usage. I hope more people will do the same.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Atheists can be fucking irrational too.

There are some in theist and atheist thought communities who like to think atheists are wholly rational or like to think they are rational simply by maintaining a response to theistic claims. Being an atheist does not necessarily mean you are rational and it is a mistake to ever believe that. The following is a short list of beliefs held by some atheists. Some are funny and some are dangerous.

Beliefs in astrology:
Astrology can be a fun work of fiction. Doing a simple content analysis of an astrology column will show you that the advice given is so general that you can redact the astrological sign for which the advice is intended and the column can apply to any sign. It could be a fun escape from reality just as long as you still remember that it is fiction. I've encountered a number of atheists who believe in the "power" of astrology. I urge them to go back and re-visit those thoughts/beliefs. Some continue to believe(and this is apparent in larger communities too), that signs dictate who you should and should not date, which jobs you will gain, and what you should eat. That line of thinking is very silly. My advice is to gather a number of columns from different cities and compare the content. From there you ought to catch the non-specificity of the column and that it only has meaning because YOU want it to have meaning.

Beliefs in ghosts/spirits:
You can be an atheist and believe in ghosts and spirits but I surmise that you have not thought it through. Shows like "Paranormal Activity" are not evidence for ghosts/spirits. The same kind of skepticism you direct toward theistic claims ought to be applied to those beliefs too. You may very well be justified in your own personal experience(I don't see how), but no one else should believe you until you produce solid evidence which can be verified independently of you.

Beliefs in the inferiority of women:
This comes from the white male privilege wing of the atheist community. They tend to believe women are objects to be possessed, rape jokes are funny(they are not), and beat the drum of "some things are better, so shut up bitch with the complaining". The latter is not professed that demonstrably but that's the tone. Proponents of that bull shit think women are not fully capable of making their own damn decisions, believe they should "know their place" and any time a woman is documenting her experience or demanding respect/change, she's whining. They also believe "feminism" is some kind of dirty word and women's issues are minor problems which do not deserve major exposure. They hold that view because at some point they would have to get off the fucking stage. This belief is very damaging to the atheist community. We need women and their voices.

Beliefs against vaccinations and medical science:
Practicing medicine is not a perfect exercise or science but that's why it is called a practice and not a perfection. Many medicines and shots have side effects and those side effects can vary from person to person but that is not a reason to have wild and crazy views about medicine or vaccines. Unfortunately since a news article was printed in The Lancet about how vaccines cause autism(they do not), much noise has been dedicated towards trashing vaccinations, distrusting doctors, nurses, hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, and health care professionals. Some of the opposition is due the notion of "all bureaucratic institutions or institutions with structure that are connected to the government are sinister". The paranoia there is due to giving a lot of credit toward an institution you think is purposely and sneakily defrauding you or in this specific case, drugging you and your kids up. The peer reviewed journals, the experiments and the evidence in no way suggests some vast conspiracy is being cooked up in order to keep you down. Vaccinations do work. Over-representing cases which are not the norm, or professionals who engage in malicious conduct is unfair to the entire community. Go look at the hard facts and stop thinking everybody and everything is out to get you. You cannot be that important. 

With respect to autism, many are still searching for a "cause". I'm sure it is tough to deal with an autistic child and some people go out of their way to provide what looks like an answer but that "answer" produces medical and scientific stagnation.

Beliefs against "evil pharmaceutical companies":
This is a position which was once professed by Bill Maher. You can probably find it on youtube but it mirrors the same exact paranoid bull shit which I previously discussed.

No single person or group has a monopoly on rational thought. Combing through our own thoughts and their implications to ourselves and others is a tough process but it is not a process we should be shy about doing.




Friday, May 4, 2012

Black Atheist? I thought we were all the same.

There's an overriding viewpoint within the atheist community; we are all the same. The notion is true to a point. We are all the same kind of animal but we do have different experiences. Those experiences shape our identity and help frame what we think of ourselves and what we want others to know. I have not been totally forthcoming with the first few words. It's not just "we are all the same, but I am saying this because if you document your individual experience, I may become uncomfortable and I cannot/will not relate to you. I'd much rather you not say it at all". I've seen that view pushed mainly by white male atheists. I'm not suggesting most of them do it but from my own interaction and with conversations with others, I know some of them push the view. Some of them think that by you offering your experience, they must shut up. Some also believe, in a religious sort of way, colorblind(race does not matter, we are all the same) attitudes, gender is a non-issue, etc are ways to move forward to bring about collective cohesion. Those views are totally wrong. Ignoring essential self identifying characteristics is not a necessary or a sufficient condition in order to understand the experience someone is trying to convey. What you have to understand is the person is telling you something very important through a specific lens which they have deemed vital. Ignoring the importance of their lens is ignoring a critical part of them.

The notion of "collective cohesion" comes with a price for those people who do not adhere to the rules. Documenting your story can only be done under a certain set of conditions. You cannot upset the status-quo by attaching race/gender to your journey to "being an atheist". The privileged class will distribute the rules of engagement and attempt to police you if you get out of line. Some words are met with silence, trepidation, anger and frustration. Any word, such as Black, female, or any other word which denotes something very specific about the person offering the words is subjected to questions such as "why must you use that word", "why can't we move beyond gender/race", or "this could be applied to anybody". The latter I take as a subtle "shut up" move. You're not saying it could not happen to anybody. You are saying it happened to YOU.

Gender/race are social constructions with real world implications which shape our experiences. There's a massive difference between saying "I don't see gender/race" and "I don't use gender/race to negatively judge another person. I don't always succeed in that endeavor but I am not willfully acting like they don't exist". We all judge. What matters is the metric by which we judge and what/how we judge. The first statement is the one which aims at collective cohesion. The second is honest. If certain words bother you when a story is being told, to the point you want to have them eradicated, then you need to confront why that's the case. You're operating with a set of assumptions which may bring you some kind of psychological comfort. Why is that? How do you receive the images of the words you don't want to hear? How do you interact/have you interacted with the people who use those words that make you uncomfortable? Why are you uncomfortable? You need to justify the step you've produced. Some think the step is necessary to achieve cohesion and I call bull shit.

Some of us in the atheist community like to bury our heads in the sand when it comes to certain things. We act like our group does not contain misogynists, racists, or homophobes. Some have willfully tricked themselves into accepting colorblind notions but claim to be well rounded skeptics and freethinkers. Some truly believe the same skepticism applied to religious/spiritual claims is employed in other areas. Do not think that's the case at all. Many do not like to talk about gender/race because it makes them feel left out or uncomfortable. They've created an unnecessary bubble around themselves whereby to be "inclusive", you must fit inside their bubble. You must play by those rules. You do not and you should not. Use the words you deem necessary to articulate your individual experience.

There's absolutely no reason to think our shit does not stink. It is our duty to call out bull shit in our own community.

When I'm providing an experience it is not to say the experience is better than another. It in no way is a claim to exclusivity, which is another charge employed because some cannot/will not relate. The words they use to transcribe and transmit their experience means something to them and if you want an ally, it's in your best interest to listen. You don't need to ignore specific facts about me or anyone else to be an ally and a friend. We can embrace our differences, share our stories and work together. No one has to ignore anything for any goal.