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.


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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It seems Pat Robertson recently brought up the silly “D&D is Satanic” meme, again. It’s accompanied with the usual fainting over players allegedly learning black magic.

For the people who are actually worried about witches going around hexing people, I have one point to make: People like you probably carry the bulk of the blame for witchcraft gaining any sort of popularity. I think it’s ironic. Dungeons & Dragons, Harry Potter, and all the fantasy franchises out there treat magic as fictional. It’s just entertaining escapism. Just like any other hobby, there are people who turn it into an unhealthy obsession, but they’re not the norm. I don’t play fantasy games out of some delusion that it’s a road to magical powers, I play because they’re fun.

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Single & Loving It

One issue that’s starting to come up a little more often for me is marriage. Not in my personal life, but in my net life. Ed Brayton over on Dispatches occasionally responds to fundies and the like who whine about people who don’t immediately marry, and I occasionally run into trolls who implicitly or explicitly argue that being unmarried means you’re an unlovable loser who doesn’t matter and doesn’t contribute to society.

I’m on the borderline between hetero and asexual. I could be an asexual who’s hetero-curious or a hetero with a naturally low libido. I’m not sure which way to split the hair. Add in the social issues that come with Asperger’s for extra fun. Whatever it is, I’m just not strongly inclined to go looking for Ms. Right, though I don’t rule out the possibility that I might stumble on her. I’m glad I have understanding parents who haven’t been pushing me to get married. It’s not something I would want to force. I think marriage is supposed to be about genuine love and respect, not a forced duty to someone else’s wishes. Society’s drive for white picket fences and 2.5 children be damned, this is about what individuals want in their lives.

If you want to be married and have kids, go ahead and do that, but do it because it’s what you want and let me do what I want without being shamed for who I am. I do have a romantic side, but it’s like that idea of being “in love with love.” I think people who love each other should be free to celebrate their love. I like the idea of a couple who love each other making it work against the odds, and I’d be glad to help them. That’s one big reason why I’m pro-LGBT rights. Why should the heteros be privileged?

By the way, I think we should consider adding an A to LGBT. I think I might try doing that and see how well it goes. I had it relatively easy, but I still see some discriminatory attitudes against asexuals. One of the big ones I see is the assumption that relative disinterest in the opposite sex means homosexuality, which lets us have our turn at being targets for the same bigots.

One thing that really hurts are the people who cheapen marriage by making it about reproduction. First, our planet is suffering from human overpopulation. Reproduction isn’t an absolute duty because of that. Having a proportion of non-reproducing individuals seems like the most civilized way to lower the population, especially if they’re already disinclined towards reproductive forms of sex. Second, we’re k-type reproducers. We have relatively few offspring, but invest heavily into making those offspring successful. There’s more to the reproductive success of a species than simply popping out more babies. Non-reproducers like me can still contribute to the human infrastructure we call civilization for the next generation’s benefit.

Some trolls pull out the “if everyone did it” canard, which is quite moot. We aren’t trying to talk hetero couples out of having kids. We aren’t claiming there is One True Way to Live like these trolls are. Humans are naturally diverse and in large societies we naturally end up specializing. If everyone was a farmer, we’d have no scientists, no factory workers, no doctors, and so on. So what? No one’s proposing that everyone be a farmer. I’m not proposing that everyone should be a bachelor. And in this case, it’s not like a profession. You can change your profession. You can discover that you like a different line of work you hadn’t considered. You can get bored with your current profession. Sexual orientation isn’t so easy to change. As I see it, heterosexuality is the most common orientation, and it’s not going to die out just because we let same-sex or transgender couples marry or let asexuals stay single. We just want people to recognize that the other options are acceptable and they shouldn’t be stigmatized. They’re not objectively better or worse, just different, and it’s up to the individual to decide what best fits him.

On Manliness

I like to think of myself as a feminist, and I recognize that gender roles are harmful. That said, I still feel there might be room for some sort of “manliness” as a concept, if not under that name. This is up for debate, of course, since I recognize I’m subject to privilege-induced blindness. I’m thinking out loud so I can mull over and refine concepts.

The ironic thing is that I think feminism has raised the bar for mangrit, at least as far as I estimate it. The result for me is that the men who whine about women not being “feminine” by their standards are having their lack of “masculinity” exposed. If anything, the old definition of femininity as submissive and passive had a once-hidden backlash on masculinity: It’s produced a lot of snivelers who can’t deal with women as adults, on equal terms. Feminism encourages women to be strong in character, and I like that. I want higher standards, and I think having strong women in a society also helps encourage men to be strong.

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Settling for Second Worst

That phrase popped into my head just now to describe an argument that’s popular with religious fundamentalists, misogynists, and other assorted trolls.

One example that’s been in my blogosphere is Amanda Todd, and how a guy calling himself The Amazing Atheist demonstrates that you don’t have to be religious to be an asshole. Amanda was driven to suicide by an online stalker, but apparently we shouldn’t feel sorrow because she had it better than women in radical Islamic countries.

A similar attitude from the opposite direction is an argument from Gary Bauer that feminists should pipe down because they’re better off than Malala, who was shot by the Taliban for advocating women’s education. In another example, a number of bloggers were criticizing an unconstitutional heavily Christian school district, and a troll came in to ask if we’d prefer the school to be heavily Islamic, as if there were only two choices.

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I originally planned to post this yesterday, and PZ inadvertently reminded me. Speaking in favor of social justice, equity and all that on the atheist/skeptical blogosphere is good, but since I include gaming as one of my topics, I think it’s appropriate to make an explicit vow that I’ll speak up in my gaming sphere. Sexism, homophobia, and racism are everywhere, and that includes gamer culture. I’m sure people who play more multiplayer and/or mainstream games experience it more often than I do. For what it’s worth, I’ll add my voice to counter bigotry when I’m playing with others.

Of course, the title isn’t a terribly serious attempt to replicate the impact atheism+ is having in its early phase, but who knows? Maybe the plus thing will expand to other communities. I doubt I’ll have cause to claim a big contribution, but I’ll do what I can with my tiny voice.


Since it’s the thing making waves in the atheist community and I put the logo on my sidebar, I thought I’d post some quick thoughts.

1. This isn’t redefining atheism. We’re a subset of atheists who have long been interested in social justice making our existing subgroup more explicit with a label. We aren’t defining other atheists out of atheism. We’re defining who we are, not who you are.

2. You aren’t required to join. If you’re complaining about our devotion to social justice, equity, and so forth, we probably aren’t interested in signing you up, and we have no ability to force you to do so.

3. If you’re complaining about someone unfriending you from Facebook or something because they didn’t like your anti-plus speech, welcome to the internet and social interaction with other sapient beings. Just like we can’t force you to join atheism+, you can’t force other people to associate with you.

4. “Divisive“: From my point of view, the various forms of bigotry and apathy towards social justice were an existing point of division. The act of making an explicit label for which side we took in that division isn’t going to change anything except possibly bring more direct attention to the issue. What’s the problem?

5. There’s no ultimate leader. We seem to be getting some people who are accusing us of being authoritarian while simultaneously claiming to be baffled that we haven’t deified an infallible authoritarian leader. We don’t need an absolute authority, nor do we want one. This is an internet culture that’s gotten along fine without explicit leaders. We just have popular figures who act as a nexus for quickly bringing widespread attention to issues, and that’s enough for me. We’re a culture, not a hierarchical organization with a bureaucracy. We don’t have marching orders, we have suggestions.

6. There’s no “silencing” going on. Just criticism. Know the difference. We don’t have to give you a platform if we don’t want to associate with you. If an Atheism+ network doesn’t want you on their list of writers and speakers, you’ll just have to go to the many other forms of media to express yourself. It’s not like we hold a monopoly on blogging.

7. There is no dogma. There is no sacred text. There is no revelation from divine forces. I consider bigotry bad because I’ve seen some of its effects, know how its mechanisms work, and how those forces build on each other to cause inequity. I also paid decent attention in history class. I fail to see how any of that entails a leap of faith.

This is Getting Annoying: Zehnder and Frey’s Defenders

[Possible trigger warning.]

I got a bit of a traffic spike from people visiting my short link-post about Zehnder and Frey, presumably because I somehow got high on the search engines despite the post being little more than a link to PZ’s article. That traffic brought with it the expected trolls. These trolls can’t seem to grasp the point, and they’ve manufactured their own false controversy to ignore the real issues. I’m also suspicious some might be engaging in copypasta since the hit-and-runners generally seem oblivious to what’s really been said in earlier comments.

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The Utter Moron’s Guide to Freedom

Fair warning / disclaimer: This post is going to be US-centric, since it invokes themes involved with the First Amendment to the US Constitution. I sincerely believe every government should provide similar rights and I give a thumbs up to the governments that agree with me. And yes, I know the US is far short of perfect in its record of living up to the principles behind the First Amendment, especially for religious freedom. This post is largely intended to counteract common ideas used to subvert these freedoms while invoking their name.

Freedom of Speech/Freedom of Expression:

You are, for the most part, free to say whatever you want without fear of the government punishing you for doing so. The exceptions include things like violent threats, slander, libel, and fraud.

This also means I am free to say what I want, including what I think about something you said. If you say something, I am free to say your expressed ideas are false, idiotic, or bigoted and my reasons for thinking so. This is not “censorship.” This is not “silencing.” This is criticism. If someone criticizes you, it does not prevent you from speaking your ideas. My freedom of speech does not conflict with yours. My criticism did not and does not prevent you from speaking, but it might convince people to make the choice not to listen to you. You are not entitled to a captive audience. If you don’t want your ideas to be subject to criticism, free speech is your enemy, not your shield.

Freedom of speech does not grant immunity from social consequences of your speech. If you say something many people find reprehensible, private citizens remain free to publicly criticize you, shun you, ignore you, ridicule you, boycott products you sell, or other legal actions to make life harder for you, so long as they don’t cross legal lines. You are not entitled to be popular or even liked. You are not entitled to control how other people feel about you. You are not entitled to control what people say about you. You are not entitled to customers.

Freedom of speech does not give you the right to every platform. For example, if someone working for a television network says something reprehensible on air, that network can choose to disassociate itself with that person by canceling his show, within the limits of their contracts or by putting up a disclaimer stating that his opinions do not necessarily reflect the network’s. The speaker’s right to free speech is not reduced because a platform chooses to withdraw the use of their media. The speaker still has numerous options for expressing his thoughts, from using his own voice, writing a blog, or publishing a book. He is not inherently entitled to the television network’s resources if they don’t want him to use them. He does not get to control the network’s decision whether or not to associate with him.

Freedom of Religion:

The United States government is, in principle, prohibited from respecting or endorsing an establishment of religion. This is supposed to mean that there can be no official government religion in the US and no government favoritism that can be abused. For practical purposes, this even excludes the possibility of endorsing atheism. Government endorsement can be and is often construed as authoritative. This means that people of the endorsed belief can feel they have authorization to unfairly wield government power in the name of their belief. This also means that people of a minority belief can be intimidated by the threat of government force and be discriminated against. Even the fear of possible discrimination is destructive because it discourages the free and open discussion of ideas. The separation of church and state exists to protect individuals from having the government impose an unwanted religion on them or on children who aren’t old enough to make an informed decision. It’s for everyone’s protection, including Christians, since there are some regions where a non-Christian religion is the majority belief. If Christianity is allowed to become the state religion, the question will likely become “which Christianity?”, leading to discrimination against Christians for being the “wrong” denomination.

You have the right to believe what you want. You are not entitled to impose your religious beliefs on others through government actions. You are not entitled to have the government proselytize on your behalf. If you work for the government, you are not entitled to use your position to endorse a religion. If you are a public school teacher, you are not entitled to lead your students in prayer, especially since children are easily manipulated or intimidated by authority figures. This is made worse by the fact that students are a captive audience since school attendance is usually compulsory. Leading a prayer also often unnecessarily forces a student of different beliefs to choose between the risk of bullying because of his non-participation or to go through the motions against his will. Neither of these is conducive to a nurturing learning environment and undermines the student’s ability to trust the government. How can a student believe the government will respect his rights if it shows open contempt for his autonomy of belief?

As a private citizen, you have the right to pray and not be discriminated against for that decision. As a private citizen, I also have the right to not pray and not be discriminated against for choosing non-participation. Students have the right to pray on their own private initiative, so long as they do not disrupt school activities. Many people assert that students’ right to pray was taken away. This is a lie. The precedent is that public school teachers are not allowed to initiate prayers while presenting themselves as a teacher because doing so would constitute a government endorsement of and favoritism toward a religion.

You have the right to display the Ten Commandments or large crosses on your property, within the limits of building codes, safety codes, and such. This includes displaying them in a fashion that is highly visible to the public. You are not entitled to have the government display religious imagery on government ground. Atheists are not in favor of prohibiting religion from the public sphere, because doing so would likely lead to the prohibition of other ideas, including our own, especially since atheism is currently an unpopular belief. We want the government to respect it’s prohibition on endorsing religion.

You have the right to build a church using your private resources, fitting within zoning laws and building ordinances. For the same reason, Muslims also have the right to build a mosque using their private resources under the same laws and ordinances. If Muslims building a mosque near the World Trade Center site hurts your feelings, too bad. Your hurt feelings do not allow you to impose your will on the mosque builders. They are within their human rights to carry out legal religious acts like building a place of worship. We shouldn’t make an exception to basic human rights just because someone’s feelings might get hurt.

Rights in General:

The United States was not established to be a mob rule anarchy. It was established to be a constitutional democracy. People shouldn’t be allowed to vote to take away a minority group’s rights. People shouldn’t be allowed to vote to take away an individual’s rights. Allowing the majority to vote away one person’s rights means that they’re no longer rights, but a privilege granted at the whims of popularity and fashion. The majority rule must give way to the basic rights of the individual and the minority, otherwise it sets a precedent for removing our freedoms altogether. Everyone is a minority in one issue or another, and it’s naive to think that making an exception to discriminate against one minority can’t be used in the future to discriminate against you.