Posts Tagged atheism
If you’re involved in the secular community, you may have noticed recently that some people have said/done some things regarding the debate over abortion rights that some of us uterus-bearers think the secular community could do without. I’m on Greta’s side in this one: fuck that shit. Go look at #UpForDebate to see how we feel about calmly and rationally debating our rights in keeping a handle on our lives. (Note: if that hashtag discussion seems grotesque and barbaric, that’s the point. That’s how it looks to us secular uterus-having feminists when we’re asked to debate abortion rights like we don’t have a knife held to our throat.) Anyway, I just want to examine the “secular pro-life” argument which PZ held up for our vegetable-throwing, as amplified without criticism by Hemant Mehta. This is what Ms. Kruszelnicki, the Pro-Life Humanist (*ahem* womb-controller who doesn’t believe in God**), says to defend her position:
If the fetus is not a human being with his/her own bodily rights, it’s true that infringing on a woman’s body by placing restrictions on her medical options is always a gross injustice and a violation. On the other hand, if we are talking about two human beings who should each be entitled to their own bodily rights, in the unique situation that is pregnancy, we aren’t justified in following the route of might-makes-right simply because we can.
What happens when both a woman and her developing fetus are regarded as human beings entitled to personhood and bodily rights? Any way you cut it, their rights are always going to conflict (at least until womb transfers become a reality). So what’s the reasonable response? It could start by treating both parties at conflict as if they were equal human beings.
The nature of pregnancy means that there can be no equal rights between gestational parent* and fetus. Everything the pregnant person eats, drinks or breathes goes to the fetus, and there’s nothing the fetus can do about that. If the pregnant person doesn’t get enough sleep, or exercises the wrong way, it can put the fetus at risk. If the pregnant person does drugs, especially the totally legal alcohol, that can permanently and adversely affect the fetus’s well-being. The fetus is completely helpless and dependent on its gestational parent. Basically, the fetus has no way to assert its bodily rights. The fetus doesn’t make decisions. It consumes, grows, develops, eliminates, and after a certain point it also moves around. But it doesn’t get a choice in what it consumes, and it doesn’t have the neural equipment to communicate its preferences even if it had any.
I am even so bold as to say that the concept of “bodily rights” is meaningless when we’re talking about a fetus. The fetus’s rights can only be decided externally, and they can only be enforced by a third party having control over a pregnant person’s life for the duration of the pregnancy. Unless the gestational parent is under lock and key, the fetus is at the mercy of their whims.
Which means that if the gestational parent doesn’t want to be pregnant, upholding equal rights between parent and fetus is a very sticky situation, at best. Which is why we get these cases of pregnancy losses*** being handled as criminal cases.
If there’s a conflict between the bodily rights of the pregnant person and the rights of the fetus, then one side must be held as superior over the other. If the pregnant person is barred from having a safe abortion, then the fetus clearly has more rights. If the pregnant person must fit some narrowly defined criteria before they can access abortion care (as Ms. Kruszelnicki would have it) then the fetus’s rights are undeniably held as superior.
The “pro-life” position is really that the fetus gets all the protections and the pregnant person bears all the restrictions and responsibilities. This isn’t a state of equality. The fetus is in a position of desperate dependency on the ability and willingness of its gestational parent to take care of demself*. They’d be a lot more honest if they dropped the pretense of equality and simply admitted straight out that they want us uterus-bearers to bend our lives around our pregnancy outcomes because babies deserve that level of dedication. Really, that’s what they’re talking about. They want us to sacrifice our bodily autonomy in the interests of making more babies. A situation of “equal rights” never seems to conclude on the side of the person who’s pregnant and doesn’t want to be.
*Not all uterus-bearers have female gender identities. Trans men and non-binary assigned-female-at-birth people can also make babies. This is why I use terms like uterus-bearer, gestational parent and pregnant person rather than pregnant woman. Let’s not deny the existence of non-cisgender people who might give birth.
**I do not accept the term “pro-life” to describe the anti-abortion position, and this will not change in the foreseeable future. I’d rather work with a pro-choice person of faith than an atheist who thinks I can be compelled to give birth.
***Seriously, look at this shit. Look at where the concern for “fetal rights” leads in the lives of vulnerable and troubled people.
Pope Francis I has just said something totally level-headed, sensible and even friendly to people outside the faith. Look at this!
“The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone!”.. We must meet one another doing good. ‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ But do good: we will meet one another there.”
By “redeemed all of us,” he means that we can go to Heaven. Isn’t that nice of him? Francis is telling his Church that everyone, as long as they act like good people, will get to the right place when they die. It’s not about believing a certain way, or going to the right church, or saying the right prayers. It’s about doing the right things in life.
To be clear, we godless heathens still don’t believe that Heaven or Hell are actual places that exist. When we die, of course we’re not going to Hell. We’re going in the ground just like everyone else, our consciousness will cease to exist, and whatever we did in our lifetimes will be significant only in its impact on our survivors. On the flip side, telling us we’re going to Hell unless we convert to your religion doesn’t scare us. It doesn’t make us wonder what’ll happen to us if we’re wrong. It just shows us that you’re an asshole.
Still, it was very neighborly of the new pontiff to point out that being a good person is a separate issue from being a Catholic, or from being a religious believer at all. That was the cue for the bureaucracy surrounding Pope Francis to rescue bigotry from the jaws of decency:
On Thursday, the Vatican issued an “explanatory note on the meaning to ‘salvation.’”
The Rev. Thomas Rosica, a Vatican spokesman, said that people who are aware of the Catholic church “cannot be saved” if they “refuse to enter her or remain in her.”
At the same time, Rosica writes, “every man or woman, whatever their situation, can be saved. Even non-Christians can respond to this saving action of the Spirit. No person is excluded from salvation simply because of so-called original sin.”
Rosica also said that Francis had “no intention of provoking a theological debate on the nature of salvation,” during his homily on Wednesday.
Rev. Rosica? You’re an asshole. You are an emblem of what is wrong with the world.
You may have seen the excerpt on Salon from Chris Stedman’s new book, Faitheist, in which he complains about how other atheists are such meanies.
(No, really: that is what’s going on in the book.)
Ophelia Benson read the excerpt so the rest of us wouldn’t have to, and she found that he puts a lot of energy into making himself seem as extravagantly humble as possible. If the phrase “extravagantly humble” sounds like an oxymoron, that should tell you something about the tone of the book.
While he’s at it, he gives us an anecdote of an encounter he had which seems rather…implausible. Ophelia describes it thus:
I’m reminded of Kingsley Amis, reading a novel he hated, constantly saying as he read, “No she didn’t, no they weren’t, no he didn’t, no it wasn’t like that.” I don’t believe a word of that paragraph. I don’t believe he remembers any brooch or tan corduroy vest – or their ages – or what they said – and certainly not that they said what he quotes.
I went and read the full text, and she’s not exaggerating. I will quote some passages, in sequential order:
I had never heard the word “faitheist” before, but I was pretty sure it wasn’t a compliment.
I blushed and ran my hands through my short hair — a nervous habit — and cleared my throat, asking if it was intended to be an insult.
“Yes,” he said without inflection. “There’s nothing worse than a ‘faitheist.’”
*blogger runs knitting needle through long, thick, incandescently shiny mane*
You want us to think about your hair? Show us something remarkable.
More importantly, I find it extremely difficult to believe that this other dude actually said those words. The jury’s still out on whether the no-inflection dude even exists.
Though I was disheartened by the event, I went to the post-panel reception, held at one of the panelists’ apartments, because I hoped that if I spoke with more of the group members I’d find some people who shared my opinions or learn a bit more about why they believed differently than I did. Also, as a thrifty graduate student, free dinner and drinks were hard to pass up!
I walked in and instantly removed my shoes. The apartment was beautiful; the ceiling-to-floor windows allowed for a stunning view of Chicago’s orange-and-white-lit skyline. The living room was impeccably clean. I scanned the crowd; I was easily the youngest person there and unfashionably underdressed (nothing new there). Looking down at my feet, I noticed there was a hole in each of my socks.
I sympathize with the impulse to go for the free drinks and dinner, I really do. It wasn’t too long ago that I was white-collar poor and wondering when I’d have health coverage again. However, the attention he gives to the fabulous apartment, contrasted with his own worn-out socks, is no accident. The trope of young, eager, struggling Chris Stedman up against the older, wealthier, more cynical New Atheists is a major theme in this piece.
I sat down on the couch, carefully balancing a mint julep in one hand and a plate of hors d’oeuvres I couldn’t name in the other, intensely aware of how out of place I must have seemed. Next to me on the couch were a woman in her mid-40s with a shimmering peacock brooch and a man in his late 30s wearing a denim shirt and a tan corduroy vest. I introduced myself and asked what they’d thought of the panel. They raved: “Wasn’t it wonderful how intelligent the panelists were and how wickedly they’d exposed the frauds of religion? Weren’t they right that we must all focus our energy on bringing about the demise of religious myths?”
Ophelia Benson does not believe that Stedman actually remembers the details of the peacock brooch or the denim shirt and tan vest. I suppose it’s possible that these two people at the party were dressed that way, and that Stedman remembers it, but it’s also no accident that the peacock is an obvious symbol of pride. The dialogue, unfortunately, drains the paragraph of credibility. I do not believe for a second that anyone at that party actually said those lines. Why not, you ask? Because no one talks that way in an unscripted conversation.
I paused, debating whether I should say anything. My “Minnesota Nice” inclination warned me to let it be, but I had to say something. So I started small, asking them to consider that diversity of thought and background fosters an environment where discourse thrives, where ideas are exchanged, and where we learn from one another.
I was stonewalled: “We have the superior perspective; everyone else is lost,” said the woman with a flick of her hand that suggested she was swatting at an invisible mosquito.
No. No, she did not say that. I’ve hung out with atheists of the outspoken, confrontational variety that Stedman abhors. I’ve attended appearances by PZ Myers, for example, and had some fabulous conversations with the other attendees. They’re not all nice people, in fact some are raging assholes, but their speech is not unnatural.
Our conversation continued, and I offered up petitions that the positive contributions of religious people be considered with equal weight alongside the negative.
“I understand what you’re saying,” I said, trying to weigh my words carefully, “but how can we discount the role religious beliefs played in motivating the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. or Mahatma Gandhi?”
“Oh, I get it,” the man jumped in with a sneer. “You’re one of those atheists.”
I wasn’t sure what he meant, but it didn’t sound like a good thing. I shifted my weight from one side to another — another nervous habit — and picked at an hors d’oeuvre that I thought might be some kind of cheese.
“What do you mean, ‘one of those atheists?’”
“You’re not a real atheist. We’ve got a name for people like you. You’re a ‘faitheist.’”
It is extremely unlikely that this conversation actually happened. “We’ve got a name for people like you”? No. This is, at best, exaggeration.
Leaving my Loyola class the day after my first atheist event, I stepped out into the cool, windy Chicago afternoon and thought back to my conversation with the man who had called me a “faitheist.” The bird-brooched woman had abandoned our discussion quickly, saying she didn’t want to waste her time. The man and I had moved to the hall, grabbing more food and another drink on the way.
“Take Islam,” he had said, leaning into a doorframe while I clutched my beer a little too tightly, the condensation running down my forearm to meet with the sweat that had just reached my elbow. “Now that’s a violent faith. And don’t try to tell me it’s not, because I’ve read the Koran.”
I thought of my friend Sayira, one of the most compassionate people I knew. Sayira was a young woman who was motivated by her Muslim faith to work for the economically disadvantaged.
This is another place where I have a bit of sympathy: I don’t like to see Muslims tarred with the terrorist brush, either, but that’s not what that man was doing, assuming he even said what Stedman quotes, which is still implausible. I have Muslim co-workers who are lovely people, and I’m aware of the Muslim emphasis on charity, but charity does not negate violence. Individuals can be wonderful, but that’s a separate issue from what their religion asks of them. Individuals can be totally peaceful, decent and generous, and the religion in which they count themselves can still be responsible for an outsize proportion of the world’s violence. I have no doubt that Sayira is awesome. Stedman’s position doesn’t become any more coherent when he contrasts Mr. Does-He-Actually-Talk-That-Way with Sayira, this one Muslim young lady who’s a wonderful person.
When you put words between quotation marks, you are showing the reader what came out of a person’s mouth, verbatim, in real time. The punctuation is not simply decorative. If you want to use quotes in a snarky manner to show us what you think the person really means to say, then first we need to see the words themselves. The dialogue that Stedman quotes in this excerpt is credible only if you’re willing to believe that confrontational atheists are humorless, emotionally deficient, socially crippled freaks with dazzling vocabularies. Those are not the speech patterns of normal people. In a novel, dialogue like that would look absurd. In a memoir, it’s preposterous. It makes the entire encounter look like a fabrication.
MOAR take-downs of Stedman’s ridiculousness!
Someone made this happen, and Paula Kirby (who was until quite recently someone I respected) Tweeted it around:
So then Ophelia Benson showed it off on her blog so that we could point and laugh.
For those who have no idea what this is about: there’s been some assholery going around the atheist movement over the past year-and-change. Only now is the assholery leading to actual upheaval. This is one of those things that have been puked up due to the motion sickness of the rug getting pulled out from under them.
This is probably not the effect that the “artist” intended: I want to jump in there and assist Jen and Greta with whatever it is they’re doing on monkey-face. I want to kneel at Rebecca’s feet. I want to learn the wise ways of Ophelia. I want to have a beer with Richard and PZ.
These are just the sensations coming up from looking at this picture.
I see from the context that this little collage was intended to ridicule the FTB/Skepchick alliance, but the effect is that they all seem like an awesome bunch of people. If you’re trying to ridicule, it helps to make the object of your derision actually look ridiculous.
Hemant Mehta asks about the relative paucity of atheist fiction compared to non-fiction.
***Edit***: Readers point out that there are several other authors of atheist fiction — e.g. Phillip Pullman, Douglas Adams, Gene Roddenberry — so maybe a better question would be why atheist fiction isn’t as popular lately?
And as it happens, his blog seems to have eaten my comment. I don’t know whether it’s a technical glitch with Disqus or a moderation issue, and if it’s the latter, then I’d just be digging deeper into a hole by trying again.
If Hemant wants to know why we don’t have an author of the stature of Pullman, Adams or Roddenberry currently active, then I can’t help him. However, I can offer a brief answer to his question of “Where Are the Atheist Fiction Books?”: RIGHT HERE.
It’s even getting some good reviews now. Just because it isn’t on shelves in bookstores, doesn’t mean it isn’t available.
We have the Reason Rally in less than a week (!!!), and wherever you have a gathering composed of thousands of heathens, will there be arguing? Why, yes. Yes there will be.
Round 1: PZ Myers is not happy with the list of speakers.
Round 2: Hemant Mehta doesn’t want to hear it.
Round 3: Jen McCreight also doesn’t want to hear it.
Round 4: PZ Myers is still unimpressed.
I’m sure this has the potential to be greatly entertaining, but in this case, I must admit that I feel for the organizers. I’m not taking a position on whether PZ has a valid point, but I am taking a position on the fact that he is not among the people who’ve put a huge amount of work into making the Rally happen. They can’t please everyone.
So, my priority on Saturday will be to navigate the Rally without having any meltdowns due to crowding and personal space issues, and until then, I have stories to make. When someone obnoxious/irrelevant/boring has the mike, I’ll feel free to take a pee break. It’s not all about me.
Coming to the end of Moral Combat: Black Atheists, Gender Politics and the Values Wars by Sikivu Hutchinson, I am forcibly reminded of PZ Myers’s endorsement of The Greatest Show On Earth, by Richard Dawkins.
There are no more excuses. None.
Perhaps it’s a bad sign that I can’t think of a better comparison than a recent biology-focused tome by Prof. Dawkins, but bear with me a few minutes.
While Prof. Dawkins chose an ambitious but uncomplicated project of establishing in layman-friendly terms the reality of Darwinian natural selection, Dr. Hutchinson’s book takes place at a very different degree of sociological difficulty. She places herself between the black church, the larger white-supremacist and patriarchal society, and the developing atheist movement, and she schools them all. There are few people left uncriticized by her scholarship, only some largely invisible and unheard slivers of society left uninstructed to unpack some invisible baggage.
When it is finished, there are no more excuses. None. There should be no more hand-waving away the need for a wider range of voices in the freethinking movement, no more man-splaining and white-splaining about what issues should “really” be the focus of skepticism and atheism, and no more clueless hand-wringing over why there aren’t more women or more people of color involved in outspoken atheism. There are no more excuses for failure to comprehend these concerns, no more assuming that skepticism begins with the Big Bang and ends with Bigfoot. Outside of the New Atheism, there should be no more telling the godless that for the sake of harmony we should simply stop being so noisy about our non-belief. There should be no more pointing to disadvantaged groups’ reliance on religion as evidence of its veracity. There should be no more attempts to silence atheism with the presupposition that religion maintains a more ethical, just and civil society regardless of its explanatory power. These are the questions that live at the intersection of sexism, racism, economic injustice and religion in America, and if you just sit down for a while and prepare yourself to unlearn some party lines, Dr. Hutchinson will make everything clear.
There will be some ideas expressed in her book with which you disagree, and some connections explored with which you were previously unfamiliar, and that is only more reason to become acquainted with these concerns. Fear not the expanse of an overly ambitious tome, for Dr. Hutchinson’s writing covers an astonishing breadth and depth of research and insight in a remarkably modest word count. There is no more need for multi-megabyte Internet explosions of privileged obliviousness over godless demographic issues. Here are the answers to your questions.
Because Richard Dawkins declined an offer to debate the existence of God with William Lane Craig, Premier Christian Radio is putting his (Dawkins’s, that is) name on buses:
The new advert reads: “There’s probably no Dawkins. Now stop worrying and enjoy Oct 25th at the Sheldonian Theatre.”
This, of course, is a paraphrase of the 2009 atheist advertising campaign, which put “There’s probably no God” on bus sides. Where the heathens put “God,” PCR puts, “Dawkins.” Hmm. Interesting. Of course I realize the context is different, but…you do know how this looks, right, PCR? It’s kind of like you think we worship Prof. Dawkins, or something. We don’t even always agree with him.
The reason why Prof. Dawkins is uninterested in debating is basically that the event would look good on their resume, not so much on his. Meanwhile,
Prof Craig said the poster campaign “leaves a shred of hope that he may turn up”.
He thinks Prof. Dawkins will change his mind because they’re using his name to advertise the event? Yeah, I don’t think so.