Monday, August 11, 2008


As if the Bush League's attempt to make oral contraception and IUDs be classified as "abortion" wasn't bad enough (ignoring the fact that the touted "abortifacient" properties of HBC are not only not proven, but possibly impossible to concretely prove with a natural spontaneous miscarriage of 50% in the first few weeks of pregnancy, and the fact that breast feeding has the exact same effect that they are claiming HBC does), Colorado has a referendum on the table to make a fertilized embryo a "person" from the moment of conception.

I'm sure we are all intelligent enough to understand that this would make abortion illegal murder. But, there are further repercussions:

1. No more stem cell research. You can't do that to a person!

2. No more in-vitro fertilization. Not all of those people get implanted successfully, and the ones that don't often go to the medical incinerator since SCR is blocked in most states.

3. Every woman who miscarries could logically be investigated for things like "involuntary manslaughter."

I live in fear that Colorado Springs is going to make it pass, giving the religious right a way to push a new case to the SCOTUS to reanalyze the legality of abortion and the sticky problems of personhood. With who is currently serving, this is a very bad thing.

Monday, February 11, 2008

A Conundrum

One of the foundations of my atheism is that the structure of religion is rather illogical. It's a zero-sum game, where only one faith is considered to be correct (unless you happen to be Unitarian, I suppose). But then, the faith is locally grown. Why would God let a random portion of the world into salvation early and ignore the rest? Surely an omnipotent being would know that people would be brought up so securely in these "false religions" that he is merely forcing them to go to hell as it is hard to truly change such fundamental parts of your person?

Occam's Razor and Anthropology classes lead me to believe that we made it all up in order to feel better about death and other things that are beyond our control (natural disasters, birth defects, etc), as well as another authority to appeal to to keep people under control (both maliciously, and not maliciously). It's comforting to think of a being that likes you, and will help you, even though your crops were just ruined and your beloved grandmother has died. She's in a better place now.

I'm certain this, and other aspects of religion that I've spoken about before, are part of why people don't do so well with it given a certain amount of thought.

But, for me, it cannot be so cut and dry. I know a lot of scientific atheists that not only mock faith, but also close their minds to anything, well, supernatural rather completely.

I'm left with a touch of confusion at times. I know rationally that there is a part of myself that wants the self-induced high of faith (I can call up the same feeling you're supposed to get from, say, prayer with little difficulty). Religion feeds upon this part of the mind. Now, this part of the mind is exceedingly powerful. It can help recovery. Meditation and visualization exercises (also known as biofeedback) can help relieve the pain, especially that of migraines (my husband and I both know this from personal experience). I'm rather sure that we don't always give the mind as much credit as it deserves, and it is a rather powerful part of ourselves.

People leave an impression upon me, an underlying feel to them that I can compare with others and even talk about these similarities between people. My husband has answered questions before they have even been asked. If I'm not distracted, I know if people are in the immediate vicinity even if they aren't making noise and I cannot see them. I can read emotions rather well. Areas have specific, constant feels. I know within an hour if I'll be close friends with someone. There's something tangible about these experiences on occasion, something that feels more emotional than rational.

Now, a lot of this can be explained away. For instance, a lot of empathy is merely being able to read people's tones, expressions, the million little hints of body language. Sharing the feeling or having others react to it (for instance, one person being grumpy makes the other grumpy in short order, or sad, etc) is likely some psychological response in close relationships. Answering questions before they are asked can be a sort of ability to read body language and context well enough to make the connections and answer an unasked question. Logically, all of these things likely has an answer in our subconscious.

Also, I'm not all new-age-whatever. If people use, say, the Tarot, I don't think it's a mystical force, but that it is something to help people think about things with some direction. A guide that they create. It's the same way for anything that are phrased so broadly that anyone can read into them (see, for instance, horoscopes). The meaning is something you pour into a ready-made mold. Anything deeper is something that I'm not going to read into it without much more proof, as much as I like the idea in a secret part of myself.

I've read a beautiful essay on how it is possible to be spiritual, but not religious. There is a part of everyone that is capable of appreciating beautiful things with awe. How incredible it is for us to have come from literally nothing, and made all of this! I know there are places that have such an aura, so to speak, about them that I find myself feeling what is generally called a "religious experience" as I feel more at peace and just appreciate the beauty of it (Nara's Todaiji temple complex is one of these places for me). We aren't just beings of rational thought, and spirituality honestly encapsulates that second part of our nature.

I don't believe in any sort of god. It's not only improbable, but almost an insult to my existence and the wonder of how it has come so far from so little. A part of me yearns for the supernatural I read in my fantasy novels, but I know that there really isn't much of a supernatural world of magic and beasties.

But, I have had some of those coincidences people talk about when they speak of how they know God is there for them. I think a lot of us have had them. I don't take them as evidence of the existence of the supernatural, so to speak. Whatever there is of the supernatural is not outside of our understanding, even if it goes beyond explanation now (though there is little that fits that mold currently).

This is rather hard to express, I suppose.

There's a lot about our spiritual nature that we don't really know yet. The mind is more powerful than we give it credit for, I think. And, I feel that this part is not open for discussion amongst the atheist community. Though, at the same time, I have to wonder if some of this is wishful thinking. I cannot subscribe wholeheartedly to the rational approach, though I still live in a state of flux as to how I feel about the non-rational things in life. How much of these realities do we create? Are any of them able to do so much more? Have I really read too much paranormal fantasy?

But, at the end of the day, I can't ignore the more instinctual, emotional aspects of my existence. I just don't know what to do with them. I don't know if they are really welcome in what we call the atheist community. There are some I read that strike me as close-minded and intolerant as the faithful they mock (though I'm biased and will usually say "deservedly so").

I suppose, in the end, that while rationality is, in my opinion, the best basis for philosophy, it simply cannot be the end-all-be-all.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Always thinking inside the box.

So, somewhere in that vast, wide internet, I came across a strange discussion on GM foods. Things about animal genes in plants (and how the animals suffered from the gene extraction that was probably a swab), not wanting to be a guinea pig, and the most jaw dropping statement: "I can't even think of a reason why we would even need to genetically engineer food."

It's all rather absurd, to be honest. From everything I have seen, it does go through testing, and to be honest, the probability of food becoming poisonous from the additions is rather slim (though likely a bit higher in insect resistant foods, but it can't be as bad as the pesticides that are sterilizing our fish).

But to not understand why science would start doing this is, well, the kind of self-centered stupidity that makes me want to hit things. It's the kind of America-centric world view that gets us into trouble, and makes me very, very angry.

Sure, in America, we have the luxury of being able to buy food from everywhere. We can have summer fruits in the middle of winter, and we can have delicacies from other regions. We have the choice to buy local organic veggies, and to scoff at GM corn because it might make us grow an extra arm.

But, the rest of world is not necessarily so lucky. To have food that produces higher yields, that can grow in more severe climates, that has extra nutrients, that is insect and drought resistant, all of these things could be life changing to the millions of underprivileged people on this planet. I'm sure there are people out there that would risk a small chance of poisoning in order to better feed themselves and their children. This stuff doesn't exist in an America-only vacuum.

Sure, GM food is used mostly for profits in the States, but that doesn't mean that's the only way it could be used. In addition, with the world population increasing, and the number of high-population nations industrializing (meaning more food demands), we need a way to produce more from what little farmland we have left. We can't all live in hippy communes and farm to our heart's content and expect to feed everyone.

Yeah, there are risks, and a lot of them are scary and difficult to test. But that doesn't mean to just discard an innovation that could improve the lives of millions, if not billions, because it sounds a bit off to a lay person and makes you feel less crunchy. To undermine that science could kill people in the same way that opposing stem cell research does, but even more brutally.

Oh, and the argument that it is stupid to have any children at all because the earth is overpopulated is another I particularly hate. The issue isn't so black and white as that. Yes, the world population is growing out of our control, so to speak. We're going to have a lot of people, and not a lot of places to put them or even a good ability to feed them. It is a major problem.

But, to just stop having more citizens isn't the best answer. If it was cool to have your population massively shrink, Japan wouldn't be freaking the hell out about their low birthrate. There aren't enough people to work the jobs necessary to keep the nation running, or at least there won't be as soon as their last, strong generation solidly retires. So, rather than ten people supporting one retiree, there is going to be 1.5 people supporting one retiree. It's a huge potential burden, not to mention the horror of labor shortages.

Immigration isn't the best solution either. Most immigrants are going to come from developing nations, and will lack education. Without this education, their first generation or two, at best, will be a nice underclass for the government and businesses to exploit. This is a good thing? Even if we do attract the best and most educated from an overpopulated nation, we have a chance of brain-draining a nation that could use its well-educated citizens to help it develop.

It's not as simple as "stop popping out kids." I'm not saying we all need to have six children, but two isn't as earth-killing as people like to scream. Complex problems require complex solutions. We need to look at efficient ways to feed and house people, to increase standards of living, to spread resources around, and to stop killing the planet (well, killing us. Earth will survive and start over if we all go down). To do all this takes coordination and foresight that we cannot guarantee. I don't know what to do, but the "grow organic only and never have kids" is about the dumbest solution I've ever heard.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

It's a rough fight.

Long time, no blog.

I peruse all my sites close to daily, and spend a lot of time passively reading FSTDT (I'm on break and out of reading materials :P)

Now, fundamentalists often point to evolution as a religion, same as atheism. It's somewhat mind-boggling. Of course, it has a rather simple answer in their heads: to a fundamentalist, the origins of the Earth are solidly founded in religion. It's in the Bible. God did it. Devil put down fossils, what have you.

So, of course, since it is a religious answer to a fundamentalist, it MUST BE a religious answer to someone who "believes" in evolution. It also must be religious because we use the verb "believe" when discussing it. I can't think of a more natural verb for the position, and, of course, belief = religion in their minds. Yes, we can say "understands," "knows," "supports," but nonetheless, the most natural turn of phrase is "believe in." (Mostly because there are people who don't believe in evolution, hence it cannot take the language of a definite fact except in specific company).

Atheism as religion is an easy one to dismantle as well. Many people still don't understand what atheism actually is (it's devil worship, in case you weren't clear), and to have a lack of belief is mind-boggling to some, I'm sure. To them, you need as much faith to not believe in the wonderment of God as you do to believe in it. To them, it may as well be a religion, as it keeps you from being a part of their religion, as you take this cosmic chance.

The more quotes I read, the more I understand their thought process.

And the more I don't know how to argue with them. Close-mindedness is one of the most heart-breaking things in the world to see. While this is pompous to say, as it comes with the assumption that I'm correct, I will say that I gave religion its fair chance. It just never added up, as the hedges I had to make to keep myself from feeling ill (all religions REALLY worship the same God, we're judged on what we know, etc) were too complicated in the end. Being kind to one another for the sake of doing so doesn't need a carrot on a stick of eternal salvation. It's simply, in many cases, the best path for long-term survival and benefit to ourselves.

A very small case in point. As a freshman in college I still had a fair bit of disposable income. I'd often treat friends to movies or dinner. It wasn't exactly because I'm the nicest thing to ever nice, but because I wanted to eat out or see a movie, and I wanted their company when I did it. We're social creatures, and being nice to people makes them spend more time with us than being a cruel person does. Kindness is its own reward.

It's a cynical and nasty way to view things, but I don't think that really makes it any less true. Yes, there are people infused with goodness and altruism, but that's a rather advanced state of things that not everyone makes it to. And not only are those who make it there all the more loved, but they also come from all faiths and walks of life.

Charities have their roots in empathy, as well as impacting the greater whole but assisting those less fortunate to better themselves, and better society as a whole. And, well, we're also just capable of being good to other people for less tangible benefits to ourselves.

Nothing enrages me more than a religious charity that heavily tries to force conversion or will think twice about helping someone not in their religion. P-Momma has a ... commenter that has been heavy-handed and rude about her faith, as well as pointedly saying (paraphrased) "if you'd only ask, I'd pick up the phone and fix everything. This paltry sum your measly atheist friends has put together to help you is nothing in comparison to what my Church would have done for you, even if you are a horrible atheist. God would fix you anyway, but you're stubborn. I'm trying to help you, but you won't let me."

That's cruel beyond words. If she honestly cared about this woman, she would have called her Church the minute she thought she could help, not even mentioning that she was responsible for it. That is goodness and love, not tormenting someone suffering with a carrot on a stick if they only do what you want them to do. Heather's offers are disgusting, and horribly immoral, even while she lives with the idea that she is only doing her best to help and these atheists are just making it SO HARD. I don't understand how to crack that stubborn, self-righteous evil and get through to her. I'm not sure if it is actually possible.

How do these people sleep at night?

Friday, October 26, 2007

They must be from Mars.

I was reading a recent Pandagon post about the hubbub over the fact that a Maine middle school is going to allow its school nurse dispense birth control pills to middle school girls without their parents' consent.

Predictably, there was a lot of outrage. Do these people seriously want a thirteen year old girls to actually have a baby? Because it sounds very much like that.

There are some things to consider about this program, of course.

  • A middle school girl who is having sex is most likely not in the position to ask her partner to use a condom. While a condom is ideal (for STD prevention), the pill is something a girl can take without telling her partner. Someone having sex with a middle school girl is just as likely to be much older and have power over her, and there are numerous abusers that try as best they can to get their girlfriends pregnant so that he has someone to tie him to her and keep her from leaving. Giving her a way to protect herself from at least pregnancy (and I'm sure the nurse would tell her about side effects, one would hope) is better than nothing.
  • The Pill doesn't seem to have an effect on growing girls, and the side effects that can result are far and away less harmful than having a child at that age.
  • Participation in the program isn't mandatory.

    A wingnut appeared in the Pandagon article and stunned me. Not because he was a father who raised "good girls" and was against the program, but that he was too oblivious to his own privilege to be involved in this debate.

    To be honest, there is a part of me that hates the word privilege, but I cannot deny that I myself have quite a bit. My parents could be considered upper middle class, I've never wanted for anything, and I'm currently going to graduate school at a prestigious public university. With the education and skills that I have, my future family isn't going to want for anything either. I've never been in a true abusive situation, and the idea of not having something like affordable, reliable health insurance is, admittedly, so foreign to me that I didn't realize fully how horrible the state of health care was in this country until after I was married and no longer covered by my parents' health plan.

    There are many families that not only are rather privileged in having rather easy lives, but their children are also more or less guaranteed the same. Their neighbors are likely in the same boat, and so, the world appears to be easy and happy.

    Someone rebutted his "parents should guide their children and have full authority" argument with the fact that some children, especially most likely the ones this program is aimed at, don't have healthy home lives. If the guidance you receive is "shut up when I'm watching TV and drinking" or if one of your parents abuses you, someone needs to step in and help you or else you are statistically screwed into a substandard American life. There are girls that are in dangerous situations and need this, and they might need it without their parents' knowledge.

    His response was something along the lines of "well, it doesn't have to be that way. It's just that culture is so darned destructive."

    I remain floored by this type of ignorance and poor logic. This may make sense inside thine suburban ivory tower, but outside of that its just absurd. Especially as the "culture" this man likely aspires to only makes the poor poorer, outlaws contraceptives and abortion, and forces God on everyone. Yes, it's true, it doesn't have to be like this, but popular culture isn't the cause of this. Poverty and low education are.

    To be honest, the conservative culture is more damaging than the kind that allows at-risk girls contraceptive power. Outlawing contraception means more pregnancies. Outlawing abortion means more unwanted babies (at a very high percentage with illegal contraceptives), and while this still remains controversial, less abortions likely means higher crime rates and higher poor populations.
  • Monday, October 1, 2007

    Pink versus Blue

    What saddens me most about this is that when I first read it, the ingrained culture part of my gut wanted to nod along a bit. I know that's wrong, but I wonder how many people would be able to see it the same way.

    The bottom line is that some South Carolina schools have set up intricate sex segregated classrooms. These classrooms go along with standard gender role nonsense about boys being rambunctious and girls being quiet and social in defining their teaching styles.

    I'm not even going to touch schools teaching the boys "to be heroes."

    If we were going to be logical about this, it makes more sense to tailor education to learning styles, not separate genders. For example, make a class of visual learners, a class of aural learners, a class of verbal learners, etc. You'll find members of each of these types of learners in a class of one gender. Paring it down to boys learn differently than girls is ridiculous. Of course, it's even better to have the classes as inclusive as possible (boys, girls, visual learners, aural learners, etc all in the same class) so that children grow up dealing with different people and different learning styles, something they will have to do all their lives.

    The figures seem to point to women doing better in education than men, and more women are going to college and other forms of secondary education. This must be bad, as we all know men are better, so now, and only now, is there a problem that we need to fix now that women have the opportunity to compete directly with men in just about any field if they so choose.

    It isn't the women are catching up in academics, really, it's that schools teach in a way that's easier for women to do well in than it is for men. So, let's separate them so they never have urges in high school and will have little experience dealing with women in formal situations like school. This will put more boys in college, so that college-educated women will have someone to marry!*

    Of course, we all only start to care about academic reform when it's girls outperforming boys. The prescribed norm is that boys do better and get to go to college, go into hard, difficult fields, like chemistry, physics, business, engineering and math, while girls go into easy MRS degrees like English, psychology, and biology.**

    I cannot think of a solid explanation of why girls are currently doing better in academics than boys, but I doubt that it is because current schools are tailored towards girls in how teachers teach.

    The program in South Carolina is a farce, plain and simple. It oversimplifies learning styles in order to force children very heavily into their societal gender roles by giving them no other options. It's even more saddening that it is being federally funded, and it will likely be implemented elsewhere. The system is currently broken, as proven by the US, richest nation on Earth, being outperformed by its industrialized fellows, but England, Finland, China, and Japan seem to be thriving with their co-ed classrooms. One may even dare to suggest that its because their people and government place a higher value on educational quality, and that culturally education is more highly valued.

    *I actually read this in an article on the fact that there are 2% more women in colleges than men. The author seriously asked "Who will these women marry?" Apparently it is permissible for men to marry women with less education, so that their wives can be taken out of the workforce and left with no way to survive economically after a divorce, but a woman cannot marry after college, or marry someone with less education. (Personally, I married a college dropout I met while he was still attending my college). I mean, if she does this, then she'll push the marriage to divorce because she earns more.

    Never mind that women who are well-educated with careers tend to have more stable marriages, when they do marry later in life. Women now have more choices available to them in how they live their lives, and, for some strange reason, they seem to be happier for it.

    **My husband, who is naturally more mathematically inclined, hates it when people call biology a soft science. Physics is very easy for him, but biology has so much memorization, as well as describing very complex systems, that it gives him trouble. He considers it one of the most difficult sciences. The truth is that biology, like psychology and English, has gained this label from some because it has a heavy female presence. Whenever a field gains a lot of women in its ranks, it apparently loses some measure of credibility and perception of difficulty. This is why English, which involves a lot of reading, writing, and heavy analysis is perceived as easy and a waste of time, while history doesn't seem to get the same sort of treatment exactly.

    I mean, if a girl can do it, it can't be that bad, right?

    Of course, the higher percentage of women in these fields isn't really good evidence that women are more inclined towards the liberal arts. I cannot currently find the study, but I do remember hearing that in elementary school, an equal number of boys and girls are interested and capable in math, science, and English, but it is in middle school that the genders shift to have girls more interested in English, and the boys in math and science. Natural ability isn't tied to gender, but the path our lives take seems to depend on said gender and its expectations.

    Monday, September 24, 2007

    And the selfish shall inherit...

    I've been reading Jabberwocky's dissection/mocking of Chick Tracts in my free time recently, and something that he points out repeatedly and continues to strike me is the fact that Chick's beliefs come across as so horribly selfish.

    Take, for example, this tract on how good works do not get one entry into heaven. The missionaries in question may come across as pretty annoyingly smug, but they still spent the majority of their lives improving the lives of thousands in the name of their religion.

    However, they are denied entry into heaven because they didn't believe correctly.

    Granted, I don't quite understand this idea of proper belief. Fundamentalism seems to have at its core that a strong belief in Jesus and being saved is what you need to go to heaven. I would assume that a pair of Christian missionaries would both believe in God, and welcome him into their hearts. So, what are they doing wrong? Why is their belief insufficient?

    Gah, and I also hate that Chick attempts to portray these people as assholes who constantly think about the fact that their works are giving them a free ride to heaven. While there are certainly some smug asses in the world that think about how awesome the afterlife is going to be, I would assume that people who spend fifty years in Africa are doing it out of some genuine goodness in their heart.

    Still, why is their belief, which I am sure they have, insufficient? Wouldn't all the work they've done just be extra brownie points?

    And, God must be an asshole to send Christian charities workers to Hell.

    But, what has spawned this post is perhaps the blatant misuse of scripture that I see in that tract. This idea that works are not enough, and you must have belief (whatever that means), is a perversion of Matthew 7:21-27, which if you actually read and comprehend, means that people who do works that Jesus wanted them to and believe go to heaven, and those that just claim to have done good works will not.

    So, why the perversion?

    The simple answer appears to be that this branch of Christianity is rather selfish. They already possess a lot of smug people who like to lord the fact that they are saved over others, but beyond that, a big reason to become saved that is cited in Chick tracts is to get a mansion and riches in the afterlife. Well, that and to avoid Hell.

    It appears to be an appeal to both the human fear of suffering and our inherent greed. God's great, and when I die, I'm going to get all this stuff! And all I need to do is say this sentence and be a sanctimonious prick full of faith in Jesus.

    Because, as far as I can tell, all you have to do is have a specifically worded kind of faith and prayer practice to go to heaven in these tracts. You don't need to give to charities or anything hard or expensive like that, you just need to believe. No wonder this appeals to conservatives (hello cheap shot), as this excuses doing unchristian things such as cutting welfare and social programs. It really isn't part of being Christian to help those in need, as works don't mean anything to this asshole God we worship, because he's going to give us riches when we die just for believing. It's a rationalization of greed and not doing charity even if you have the funds.

    I will never argue that Chick's brand of Christianity is a harmful to society bunch of filth, where the rich can keep what they have, and the poor can fuck themselves. I'd be rather curious to see what the fundie rate of giving to charity and volunteer work is if this portion of doctrine is common in fundie churches. It really just boils down to being all about the individual without needing to give anything to anyone but "witnessing." If there is a God, and this is what he wants, he can go fuck himself. At least I'll have great company in Hell.