I’m With PZ and Jane Doe

I’m on the side that openly denounces misogyny, racism, and rape culture. It disgusts me that this conflict has become necessary in the skeptical and atheist communities.

We’re supposed to be better than the dogmatists who set up the self-fulfilling inequalities in our culture. We’re supposed to strive for high moral standards, not merely settle for being slightly better than the invisible sky monsters and their idolators. We’re supposed to blame perpetrators, not victims. We’re supposed to be sympathetic to the oppressed because we’ve experienced oppression. We’re supposed to be self-aware so that we don’t become oppressors ourselves. We’re supposed to tear down pretty facades to uncover the ugly truths. We’re supposed to disrupt a bad status quo, even if it means rocking peoples’ boats. We’re supposed to judge people by their character and merits, not by their claimed affiliations and labels. We’re supposed to criticize our heroes when they make mistakes.

We’re supposed to look at the merits of an argument instead of dismiss them with convenient ad hominem appeals to popular stereotypes and absurd narratives that were invented to dismiss them. We’re supposed to exercise extra scrutiny when someone claims biology supports cultural stereotypes. We’re supposed to know that our experiences are biased, limited, and not the whole context so that we can listen to other people’s experiences, look at raw data, and examine the logic behind a position with a genuine open mind. We’re supposed to act like skeptics if we call ourselves skeptics. We’re supposed to continue improving ourselves rather than idly pat ourselves on the back just for being atheists.

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Answering Theists #1

There are a lot of theists out there who type up what they think are “gotcha” questions for atheists. Theist trolls absolutely love these lists and to copy/paste them, often on a hit-and-run basis. Judging from the newlines I’m cleaning out, Michael Benson Ajayi copy-pasta’d such a list in a Pharyngula comment thread. (Or he wrote it in Notepad or something and word wrap tweaked it.) So I’m starting this series here.

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Authority

Welcome to the next post in this little series of one-word-wrongness in religion.

To scientifically minded thinkers, authority is a shortcut for time and convenience. If I want to know the answer to a physics question, I can ask a physicist with appropriate letters after his name and published peer-reviewed articles attached to his name. A doctorate degree and peer-reviewed publications generally indicate that the person has done the hard work needed to understand physics and has demonstrated that understanding to the scientific community. So there is a basis for trusting in the accuracy of his answers if I want to save time and effort researching it. If I want to investigate deeper, instead of relying on the physicist’s authority, I can choose to read the accumulated literature to find a consensus or even perform the experiments myself if I’ve got the resources. If the physicist abuses his authority to push unproven or disproved hypotheses as if they were proven, he will be criticized by his peers, hopefully making people more hesitant to just trust his credentials.

To people with secular morality and politics, authority is generally given by social consensus. We vote for our leaders, and in theory, they are obligated to serve our interests. If they fail in that task, we can vote for a different leader next term. If a leader abuses his authority and works against the public’s interests, we can feel justified in resisting in various ways, whether it’s public criticism to sway voters and lower his chances of being reelected, mobilize other officials as checks against the abuses, or, in the most extreme cases, openly rebel against their authority.

In both these cases, authority is provisional and circumstantial instead of absolute, and the possibility of abuse is acknowledged. In religion, however, this often isn’t the case. Gods are often given absolute authority, and the “Big Three” Abrahamic religions are well-known for it. Being an American, and particularly a Texan, I’m pretty familiar with Christianity’s take on it, and there are a lot of recurring themes in attempts to justify it that are equally applicable in other religions.

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The Blunt, Obvious Truths About the Redefinition of Marriage

Today’s post is inspired by Tynk’s comment, over at Dispatches from the Culture Wars.

As I see it:

Modern hetero marriage: Legitimate because it is between informed, consenting adults.

Same sex marriage: Legitimate because it is between informed, consenting adults.

“Traditional” chattel-based hetero marriage: Illegitimate because it treats women like commodities to be traded or livestock to be tamed, rather than respecting their autonomy of will. It considers their informed consent to be optional, rather than mandatory, and often denies them the right to withdraw consent and leave the relationship. It often overlaps with communities where women have their range of choices in life artificially limited by lack of education (to reduce their ability to be informed) and other cultural barriers to opportunity. It seeks to create weaknesses to provide the husband the power to exploit them for his selfish gain. It gives birth to rape culture and weakens the character of both men and women by lowering society’s standards of maturity. In the civilized world, an adult is supposed to treat his or her spouse as an equal partner, not as property.

Rape: Illegitimate because it is an act performed with blatant disregard for the victim’s consent.

The long defunct NAMBLA: Illegitimate because one member of the relationship is a child, who is considered not competent to consent by default and vulnerable to exploitation. On the related sex angle, this is also the reason it’s called statutory rape.

Child marriages in general: Illegitimate because one member of the relationship is a child, who is considered not competent to consent by default and vulnerable to exploitation. On the related sex angle, this is also the reason it’s called statutory rape.

Arranged marriages: Illegitimate because they’re not based on the consent of the members involved, but the imposition of those who wield power over them. Made worse when it’s between children.

Bestiality: Illegitimate because non-sapient animals aren’t competent to give consent. They lack the intellectual capacity to understand marriage.

Eugenics-based marriage: Illegitimate because it puts the state in control of the most private parts of people’s lives without regard to their informed consent. It’s also stupid because it’s typically reliant on pseudoscientific ideas about “purity” or “perfection” when all the evidence of biological evolution pretty much tells us there is no such thing.

Marriage by divine dictation: Illegitimate because it arbitrarily puts an unevidenced being’s alleged will above that of the involved members, typically through duress like other arranged marriages.