Tuesday, September 28, 2010


A couple days ago a co-worker mentioned that they didn't understand why anyone would have an objection to the 10 Commandments being displayed somewhere. The obvious objection, I said, was separation of church and state. Secularists object to a religious text being on government/public grounds. "But there's nothing WRONG with the ten commandments!" she argued.

Oh, but there is! The first three or four commandments (depending on your religion) all have to do with honoring God. What a jealous and petty god! It needs a WHOLE day devoted to its holiness? Geez, how narcissistic! And besides, there's a whole lot of things that I find offensive that I would include on a list of Commandments that certainly don't make it on, mainly rape, sexual assault, and the exploitation of human beings in general. And slaves are okay, I just can't take them from my neighbor.

The Ten Commandments are also the perfect example of how self-contradictory, widely interpreted, and variously translated the Bible is. I don't understand how anyone can know anything about the Bible and view it as the WORD OF GOD when it is so clearly the convoluted WORD OF MAN. You don't need to be a Bible scholar to figure this one out either. Just look at the Wikipedia article on the Ten Commandments. There's a lot of variation.

Moreover, why are Christians so reverent about the Ten Commandments? If one claimed to be a follower of JESUS, wouldn't they hold the Beatitudes a little more holy? Of all religious sentiments, I definitely favor those over the Ten Commandments. Of course, those have contradicting versions (Matthew vs. Luke) just like everything else in the Bible.

But, in a violent power-hungry society, the Christian Right is never going to value things like the poor, the mourners, the hungry, the meek, the peacemakers, etc... Even though that's what their Holy Book tells them to value. Typical.

Here's my Commandment:

Saturday, September 25, 2010

FIRST GUEST POST! Boy Scouts and Atheism

 This post was submitted by our wonderful friend Zach, who lives in Chicago and will hopefully join us in L.A. someday. I'm very excited that I don't have to think as much this evening!

This is a story about a kid in my Scout troop. 

The Boy Scouts of America is relatively famous for its Scout Law.  A twelve point list of qualities that every scout is supposed to aspire to.  The final point of the Scout Law and the one I personally have found the most conflict with is "A Scout is Reverent."  I have not been a believer for probably about 13 years now and in that time I have risen through the ranks to Eagle Scout and joined my troop as a leader.  Through this exposure to scouts I have come to my own definition of reverence that works for me and which I was called to defend when I was reviewed for my Eagle Scout. 

Last April a young man was up for rank and facing a board of review, a common question on the board is to explain an aspect of the Scout Law as it pertains to you.  The young man (he is 13)  was asked to explain reverence.  He thought on the matter and said it didn't apply to him as he is an Atheist.  The board asked him to leave and ended up withholding their decision as to whether or not to grant him rank (I have never heard of this happening before).  The kid is a great scout. He is resourceful, an avid camper and outdoorsman, respectful and helpful.  He just doesn't believe in God. 

The matter was brought to the troop committee where several leaders suggested ejecting the young man from the troop outright and definitely denying him rank.  Several of these leaders were people that up until then I had nothing but respect for.  Ultimately, it was decided that at his age he could not have solidly decided on the matter and his merits as a scout and individual won the day. Despite this, several leaders still took it upon themselves to talk to this young man about how such exceptions might not be made in the future. 

Here's the thing.  A belief in God does not make one reverent nor does disbelief make one not reverent.  Here a young man has learned from this whole incident that he has to hide his beliefs in an organization that claims to support American values.  Reverence is (don't care what Webster says)  acknowledging and respecting that there are things in life greater than oneself and putting those things ahead of ones own desires.  Vegetarians have reverence for the lives of animals.  Soldiers have reverence for their country and its ideals.  Doctors Without Borders revere human life and health.  These are all people who can quite easily be atheist but live with reverence none the less. 

I am proudly still a member of the BSA.  It has done a lot of good for a lot of kids, myself included.  Seriously though, if it doesn't make a push to pull its head out of its ass on things like Atheism, Homosexuality and other social issues, it's going to risk becoming another completely irrelevant excuse for parents to pawn their kids off on other people for a weekend. 

Friday, September 24, 2010

MORE video to cheer you up...

I was just writing about Eric Idle in my other blog... and I thought that this video was most appropriate.

Plus it's 2:00 AM and I can't sleep.

I could put a million Eric Idle/Monty Python videos up on this blog and ALL of them would be great for topic starters. When I think that I'm getting to narrow-minded and self-centered, I don't necessarily think of the ever expanding Universe, but how privileged I am to not be starving in a hut somewhere without clean water... Heck, I don't even have to go that far. There are plenty of people loitering outside the Ralph's by my house who have problems I can't even imagine.

When my belief in a god first started to crack, I clung to the belief of Kurt Vonnegut's "God, the Utterly Indifferent." That's the concept of a creator who did its job and then walked away. A non-personal god that has no influence on daily life. Because how could I believe in any god that allowed millions of people to starve or be exploited or abused? I think that to believe in a god that interferes on your behalf, just because you're a lucky or privileged person is selfish, narcissistic, or at least utterly deluded and naive. But then, I let go of the idea of that kind of god, as well. 

Obviously, that was just a safety blanket. 

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Something to Cheer You Up

Life Partner and I were just commenting on how this clip brings us comfort and joy...

Thanks for existing, Douglas Adams.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Existentialism for Children

This past weekend I came down with a mean, nasty cold. I didn't feel like doing much except mope around the apartment in a big blue bathrobe, dragging around an entire roll of toilet paper and a plastic sack full of snotty tissues. I helped speed the recovery by drinking an entire carton of orange juice and becoming engrossed in one of my favorite stories... A tale of talking farmyard animals dealing with their roles in the world and fighting to find their place.

No, I'm not talking about George Orwell's Animal Farm, although it is one of my favorites... No, I'm talking about...


I rediscovered Babe as an adult. I watched it as a kid and mostly forgot about it, and I don't know how it hadn't always been my favorite movie. As a vegetarian, I obviously appreciate the movie's commentary on meat eating. A friend of mine told me that her Christmas dinner was ruined one year by it. I imagine it would be pretty difficult to choke down ham after watching an adorable pig character for an hour and a half. 
But the part that really struck me this time was the scene between Babe and the cat. 

Cat: You know, I probably shouldn't say this, but I'm not sure if you realize how much the other animals are laughing at you for this sheep dog business.
Babe: Why would they do that?
Cat: Well, they say that you've forgotten that you're a pig. Isn't that silly?
Babe: What do you mean?
Cat: You know, why pigs are here.
Babe: Why are any of us here?
Cat: Well, the cow's here to be milked, the dogs are here to help the Boss's husband with the sheep, and I'm here to be beautiful and affectionate to the boss.
Babe: Yes?
Cat: [sighs softly] The fact is that pigs don't have a purpose, just like ducks don't have a purpose.
Babe: [confused] Uh, I - I don't, uh...
Cat: Alright, for your own sake, I'll be blunt. Why do the Bosses keep ducks? To eat them. So why do the Bosses keep a pig? The fact is that animals don't seem to have a purpose really do have a purpose. The Bosses have to eat. It's probably the most noble purpose of all, when you come to think about it.
Babe: They eat pigs?
Cat: Pork, they call it - or bacon. They only call them pigs when they're alive.
Babe: But, uh, I'm a sheep pig.
Cat: [giggles] The Boss's husband's just playing a little game with you. Believe me, sooner or later, every pig gets eaten. That's the way the world works. Oh, I haven't upset you, have I?
[chuckles softly

My favorite part is when Babe says, "Why are any of us here?" That's a big, HUGE question to be asking in a kid's movie. 
Why are any of us here?

One of the great "mysteries" of life, I suppose. Uber-religious types might say that our Purpose is to worship God. Wow. Sounds like a petty, self-centered, egotistical god to me. What kind of purpose is that anyway? Pro-choice family types might say that our Purpose is to procreate. To make more mini-me's to "go forth and multiply." A lovely, humanist-type might say that our Purpose is to make the world a better place. That's a pretty noble and idealistic and very pleasant purpose.

I think that none of us have a Purpose. We came from nothing and are the end results of millions of years of evolution... Too much focus on Purpose leads to caste system thinking. I'd be friendlier towards Hinduism if it didn't have a history of barbaric practices like the caste system and Untouchables. Talk about everyone having a place and purpose in life. 

I don't have a Purpose in life... but I do have some lofty goals and ambitions and would like to make the most of my time. I'd like to participate in mass media (whether through films, TV, documentaries, or the Internet) in a positive way that might help to reduce intolerance, increase joy, and spread empathy and understanding. And along the way, I'd like to fill my life with the love of family, friends, and my Life Partner. That's my goal in life. I don't have a Purpose.

{Don't knock Babe, by the way. It was nominated for 7 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Direction, and Best Writing and won the Golden Globe for best Comedy/Musical Motion Picture}

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

France Bans the Burqa

Heard it on NPR while driving home from the recycling center (Damn. I AM a poor yuppie). You can read about it on CNN International.

I can't quite decide how I feel about this. On one hand, I always argue in favor of religious freedom because that, in turn, gives me the freedom to argue AGAINST religious thinking. That's just my knee-jerk American born and raised reaction to something like this. I also think that people should be able to wear whatever they want... if I want to go out on the town dressed in a scuba suit, I should be able to do that. But, there's also not a whole lot of subtext to a scuba suit.

So what's the French argument?

"Given the damage it produces on those rules which allow the life in community, ensure the dignity of the person and equality between sexes, this practice, even if it is voluntary, cannot be tolerated in any public place," the French government said when it sent the measure to parliament in May.
Okay... so it's an equality of the sexes thing? But what if a woman really DID feel more comfortable wearing a burqa? Well, then I guess that's just kind of sad. It really represents the worst qualities of Islam. Does she feel SAFER in a burqa, like she's hidden from the eyes of lecherous men? Then shame on our society. A woman shouldn't have to feel like she has to HIDE herself in an effort to be modest and tasteful and respected. As someone who has been harassed and catcalled while wearing the most tasteful clothing imaginable...I kind of understand this. But at least I was raised to stick up for myself and demand some respect. I really like this part of the law:
Forcing a woman to wear a niqab or a burqa will be punishable by a year in prison or a 15,000-euro ($19,000) fine, the government said, calling it "a new form of enslavement that the republic cannot accept on its soil."
THAT, I think, is pretty awesome.  Because while some asshole machismo father or husband is in jail, the woman involved could seek refuge and start a life for herself. I don't know how this would be entirely provable or prosecutable...but it's a good idea in theory. This ban, by the way, does not include head scarves or other coverings that do not obscure the face. HA-- I just realized... God not only obscures perception, but in this case, it also obscures your VISION. Wow.

I'm also realizing the practical reasoning behind this ban... If I walked into a convenience store in a ski mask or with a sheet over my head, they would have pretty good reason to call the cops. It makes sense, public safety-wise, to ban clothing that completely covers the face.

The French have always been pretty secular. A few years ago they banned the wearing of overt religious symbols in schools and government buildings. I'm pretty much in favor of this idea...as long as it doesn't target Muslims in headscarves more than Christians wearing cross necklaces or Jews wearing skullcaps.

I think that's been the key part of the propagation of religion and religious persecution over the years. Make it easy to spot and associate with your fellow followers AND easy to spot and persecute those who are not. I'm pretty sure that the earliest example of this was the foreskin. Cut it off at birth so we can always identify you as one of our own. Really, all of this religious branding reminds me of that scene from "Freaks."

Gooble Gobble Gooble Gobble. One of us! One of us!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Life After Death

I think one of the hardest things to let go of as I came to terms with atheism was the idea of an afterlife. As a child, my gut instinct was to believe in reincarnation. Even before I ever saw the movie Fluke (a chief influence on my beliefs, I assure you), I thought it was most likely that I would come back to life as a squirrel or dog. Despite my weekly catechism, I just had this idea that reincarnation made more sense than a literal Heaven.  Imagine my shock when I got older and learned about Karma and Hinduism. You mean I didn't come up with that on my own???

As I got older, and wasn't sure what I believed in, I found that it was easier to let go of the idea of Heaven than Hell. It was so satisfying to imagine that rapists and child molesters, spousal abusers and murderers, Hitler and the like, were all rotting in this imaginary place... suffering for the crimes of their life on Earth. That's something that was really difficult to let go.

My LP had an even harder time imagining the lack of an afterlife. It can be a really scary idea. Moreover, it was pretty sad to abandon the fantasy that we would be able to spend eternity together after we died. That's a really nice fairy tale.

I think that one can achieve immortality, to a certain degree, in the memories of the living. Because I don't think anything happens when we die (other than decomposition), I don't care too much what happens to my body after death. I'd like it to be as eco-friendly as possible, but also bring comfort to whoever cares about me when I'm gone. That's why, when I heard about "And Vinyly" on NPR the other day, I was totally intrigued. Basically, they press your cremated ashes into vinyl records and you can have whatever song or message you want. Now, is this the most practical idea ever? Absolutely not. But I do think it's pretty cool. Will anyone even own record players once I'm dead? Unlikely.

I don't think that I would actually have my family pay the money for something like this. The funeral industry is pretty evil in its manipulation of the emotions of the grieving. But I'd love to find more options like this... something a lot more interesting than having an ugly urn on your fireplace mantle for 50+ years.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Physics Proves THERE IS NO GOD!

OK, so I'm exaggerating. Theoretical Physics is, well, theoretical. But if the SMARTEST MAN IN THE WORLD says that "God" wasn't needed to form the Universe...

Then I'm thinking everyone should listen to the world's smartest man.

Stephen Hawking's newest book, "The Grand Design," states that the idea of a creator of the universe is redundant.
Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist. It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going.
Thank you, Stephen Hawking. You were a hold out on rock solid atheism for a long time, always bordering on agnosticism. So, for this, thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you. 

And as I warned in my previous post... Don't bother reading the user comments on news articles like this. They will just make you sad. People can believe in a God or witches or fairies or the Loch Ness Monster if it makes them happy. I just don't think it's a very logical or reasonable belief and I don't like it when wars are fought and people are oppressed over it.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

User Comments Make My Brain Hurt

I once read in a magazine article that a New Year's Resolution should be to STOP READING USER COMMENTS. On every Yahoo News article or YouTube video, there are dozens of idiots espousing opinions that they would never dare to voice in person. If the topic at hand happens to be about religion or politics, you can throw all logic and reason and basic civility out the window.

Recently, I stumbled upon this article that stated that the majority of Republicans believe that Obama sympathizes with Islamic goals. A whopping 59% believe that Obama favors Muslim Americans over other groups. I don't even know how this "reasoning" occurs.
According to the poll, 14 percent of Republicans said that from what they knew of Obama, they thought such allegations were "definitely true"; 38 percent thought the allegations were "probably true." Meanwhile, 33 percent of Republicans thought they were "probably not true" and 7 percent thought they were "definitely not true." Asked whether Obama favors the interests of Muslim Americans over other groups of Americans, 59 percent Republicans said yes, whereas 34 percent said he has "generally been evenhanded."

For realsies????? The article was bad enough, but then when I went down to read the comments... OH, MAN. I really wanted to punch myself in the face so I could forget what I had read. This is the one that made me throw my hands up:
I voted for this knucklehead since the primaries and have regretted it for a while. He is a muslim sympathizer. He reaches out to the Muslim world by saying a Mosque is o.k, by hosting Ramadan dinners at the White House. This imbecil bowed to the Saudi king. How pathetic!!!!
Thanks "Steve." What really surprises me is that he voted for Obama when he has such ridiculous views. Um, yeah, of course a Mosque is OK. They are allowed to build anywhere they want, zoning restrictions considered. And if you want to talk about a President that was good buddies with Saudi Arabia, look no further than the darling Bush family.

From http://archive.popandpolitics.com/tag/religion/
But the thing that gets me about this is that President Obama has been adamant from the beginning that he is a Christian. But honestly, I think he is a Christian/Theist for political reasons only. Given Obama's life experiences and religious history, I've always had the gut reaction that he is a bit of an agnostic...perhaps the sort of humanist that Thomas Jefferson was. I love the Jeffersonian Bible. It takes out all the mysticism and leaves only the nice, pleasant philosophy of the New Testament...the "love your neighbor" kind of stuff that Jesus supposedly preached.

Most importantly, I just appreciate having a President who doesn't inject his religious beliefs into everything he does. Unlike certain leaders, I'm relieved that Obama doesn't believe that he's on a mission from God. I'm glad that he doesn't believe that military involvement in the Middle East will bring about the Apocalypse so that all good believers can go to heaven. I don't care if Obama is a "real" Christian... but to fear him and believe that he favors Muslims over all other Americans??? It's on such a level of absurdity that I don't even know how to deal with it.