Not Our Reputation!

This is a post I wrote a couple of weeks ago on my tumblr, but I think it’s worth the repost.

At 29.2 percent, Oregon has the highest rate of child food instability of all 50 states, and David Sarasohn is wailing over our besmirched reputation.

His Oregonian article titled “An Oregon magazine cover we’d rather cover up” discusses the “humiliating” Nov. 27 Parade magazine cover story featuring suggestions of how people can help their fellow citizens this holiday season. It’s suggestion number two that humiliates David Sarasohn: “Feed hungry children in Oregon.”

It seems this idea hit home with a lot of people. Ellen Dully, associate director of development at Oregon Food Bank, told Sarasohn that OFB has received donations from “nearly all 50 states, including a few donors from as far away as Alaska and Hawaii” for a grand total of 660(ish) contributions amounting to $38,000.

The proper response to that? “Wow. Thank you.” Sarasohn’s response?

Which helps, even if it feels a little like the money came in because Oregon’s hungry kids were out on the nation’s streets holding a hat. One contributor from Georgia said he’d always enjoyed coming here for Cycle Oregon and was shocked to hear what Oregon’s child food insecurity numbers were like.

That visitor reaction won’t make it into a state tourism brochure.

What the hell? Almost thirty percent of our state’s children aren’t sure where their next meal is coming from, and you’re concerned about our fucking tourism?

Sarasohn then goes on to quote the US Conference of Mayors report’s conclusion that, due to likely increases in requests for food assistance but likely decreases in resources devoted to food assistance, “local officials see maintaining the food supply as the biggest challenge they will face during the next year.” That sobering statement is followed, I shit you not, with:

We could end up on more magazine covers, again for the wrong reasons.

David, I’d like to introduce you to the point. You seem to be missing it. The bad news in this story is not the blow these rankings will serve to our state’s image. The horror here is not magazine covers suggesting that people help us. The bad news is that this exists. Stories like this bring attention to the issue, and as your pearl-clutchingly narcissistic article shows, stories like Parade’s work. Oregon has a huge problem feeding our children, and thanks to Parade’s article, we now have $38,000 more to work with. $38,000! Directly to the food banks! That is fantastic news. It is the only thing about this whole situation that doesn’t suck – the willingness of people to help their fellow humans. This should not bring you humiliation; it should bring you gratitude.

At least, it would if your priorities were in the right place. Now, I know David Sarasohn didn’t pick his headline. That’s the job of the copy editor. But a copy editor sources their headline from the copy itself. The headlines are the tl;dr of the newspaper, and, at least to the copy editor for this article, the overall theme of the article was “An Oregon magazine cover we’d rather cover up.”

In case that isn’t clear enough, I’ll put it in less allusive terms: “Starving kids are bad, but not as bad as people knowing that Oregon is full of starving kids. We wish Parade had kept its big mouth shut.”

Faith Is Not A Virtue Part III: Fear

My last two posts have discussed why people have faith: lack of scientific understanding, and lack of reasoning skills. Today’s reason, however, is probably the most common reason people have faith: fear.

FEAR:

Fear is one of the most powerful motivators humans experience. Fear is supposed to protect us physically – we will do almost anything to avoid pain, because pain means death, and death means no gene replication. Fear also acts as a social constraint. Most of us fear being ostracized, because humans have evolved to live in social groups. Social groups increase our odds of survival and procreation, so ostracization is interpreted as a physical threat.

Religion makes excellent use of fear to replicate itself in two ways: explicit fear of hell, and implicit fear of being ostracized if you renounce your beliefs. Read the rest of this entry

Faith Is Not A Virtue Part II: Reason

So yesterday I talked about reasons people hang on to faith. I started with the reason of poor scientific education. Today, it’s time for reason number two:

LACK OF REASONING SKILLS

Like I said yesterday, critical thinking is not generally the natural way our mind works. When we’re trained in the scientific method, however, critical thinking becomes easier. It becomes habit to evaluate ideas based on their objective merit. Asking questions becomes a good thing. Asking for evidence becomes default, and saying “I don’t know” becomes acceptable. Even if the idea in question is religion.

If you don’t know how to think critically, accepting the contradictory claims of the bible (or any other holy book or religion) is much easier. “Because I said so” becomes a valid answer. If the information is from someone sufficiently powerful, it is accepted. An example:

God exists. Why? Because the Bible said so. Why is the Bible a reputable source? Because my parents, my pastor, my teachers told me. Why should I believe them? Because I trust them. Bam. End of discussion.

The key here, of course, is stomping out the urge to ask why before we get too old. Any 6-year-old could disprove the existence of god if we would just answer the damn questions. Asking why is natural, but so is trusting people. If children didn’t trust and believe their parents, we’d have died out by now. And so skepticism dies by the hand of safety.

If you can revive that skepticism, though, fallacies become obvious. The bible says god is love, but he commanded his people to commit genocide and mass rape when the Israelites invaded Canaan. He is compassionate, but he commanded his people to bash babies’ heads against rocks. And when they didn’t kill everything, he was pissed. But that’s not even the biggest problem! If god is perfect, why did he make something that was capable of fucking itself over so badly? Why did he give Adam and Eve the capability to sin? If he’s omnipotent, why wasn’t there a less horrific solution to the problem of sin than to have billions of people (and guiltless animals) suffer and die and go to hell? Why did he have to send his son/himself to suffer horribly and die (temporarily) and then leave no evidence behind? In short, what kind of sick fuck is god? Better question: Why the hell would you want to worship this psychopath?

Oh yeah, that’s right: If you don’t, you go to hell. Yep, god is most certainly love.

TOMORROW: Faith Is Not A Virtue Part III: Fear

Aware vs. Informed: Autism, Epilespy, and Bipolar Edition

Awareness is a pretty trendy thing. A big deal is made of breast cancer awareness, autism awareness, gay rights awareness, human rights violations awareness, etc., especially in privileged groups. If you know about the problem, the logic goes, then it will go away.

Wrong.

The thing about awareness is you don’t have to deal with the messy facts. Instead, you get to paint a subjective picture, preferably one that gets people to give your organization money. Informing people, on the other hand, is more work, because you have to explain things, and you have to get people to look at things differently, and you have to get them to change how they think about basic things. It’s not enough to know that a problem exists. You have to know why it’s a problem, and why it would be better if the problem was gone. You have to know what it’s like to live with that problem, and you need to eliminate inaccurate stereotypes about the problem. That’s a hell of a lot more work than raising awareness, but informing people actually works. It’s hard, but it gets shit done.

So let’s get some shit done. I’m going to be using some terms you may not be familiar with. I’ve defined the terms I think need the most explanation on the Definitions of Common Terms page, but if there’s a term in here you don’t know, ask me in the comments and I’ll explain it. Read the rest of this entry

Faith Is Not A Virtue Part I: Education

I was raised in an evangelical Christian family, sent to evangelical Christian schools (complete with daily bible classes and shitty science classes), and heavily involved with my evangelical Christian mega-church. Again and again I heard the explicit message “faith is a virtue,” which contains the implicit message “critical thinking is bad.” Obviously I ended up doing some bad shit, cuz, well, I’m now an atheist.

But I still hear the “faith is a virtue” argument from the religious people in my life when we discuss how untenable their beliefs are. My best friend is smart, very good at critical thinking, and has a degree in anthropology with a focus in archaeology. She understands evolution much better than I do, completely accepts it as fact, and yet for a long time she has wavered, torn between what she knew and what she had been taught while being raised a Christian. She has doubts about the bible and how all the bad things and the good things could be reconciled, and how the bible and science matched up. But, up until very recently, she chose to believe. Why? Because of her “personal relationship.” Because she didn’t want to give up her faith. Because faith is good.

Bullshit. Faith is not a virtue; faith is a weakness. I’d say I’m sorry for putting it so bluntly, but I’m not, so I’m not going to lie about it. Faith is unwavering adherence to an idea despite the dearth of supporting evidence. Or, to put it another way, faith is unwavering denial of evidence that refutes an idea. Faith is a blindfold that you cheerily put on right before you walk into the traffic of reality. Faith is socially accepted gullibility. And faith is something we’re supposed to idealize? Why would anyone fall for that?

Well, any combination of three reasons: lack of education, lack of reason, or fear. Read the rest of this entry

An Unapologetic Atheist Manifesto

I may have stopped believing in god about 5 years ago, and first labeled myself an atheist 2 years ago, but I’ve been very quiet about it until a few months ago. Even now, though, I pretty much shut up when I’m around the religious people I care about. If I do speak up, I say my beliefs in an apologetic way. In short, I submit socially to maintain the relationship. It wasn’t this way before I labeled myself an atheist. I miss the intellectual discussions my best friend and I used to have, where no one was attacked for their viewpoint, and calm rational debate was prized. But following my deconversion, I no longer feel I have the right to speak my mind.

But I do. So I’m reclaiming that right today.

I believe there is no god because I think the hypothesis of god is untenable. I think the belief in god is preposterous. I can give intellectual reasons why people would believe in god, but I cannot quite understand how they would. I also don’t understand why they would want to. Having studied the bible every school day of my life for 13 years, I have concluded that the god of the bible – particularly the Old Testament – is not a being I would want to worship, should he exist. I see no reason to worship a being as genocidal, racist, misogynist, and sadistic as the Abrahamic god. If god did exist, I believe it would be morally wrong to worship him.

But.

I do not hate religious people. I may laugh at them, yes, but that is because I believe that religion should not be shielded from criticism in the marketplace of ideas. If religion is tenable, if it is true, then it should be able to survive criticism. It should relish the opportunity to prove itself. It should not feel threatened by atheism. I certainly don’t find the idea of religion to be threatening to my beliefs.

I do not believe that religion is the root of all evil. I think many conflicts are exacerbated by religion, but if we didn’t have religion, humans would still find other reasons to seek to destroy each other. Humans are prejudicial by nature, and the solidarity of the in-group and the hatred of the out-group will exist, regardless of the label given to the strife.

I am a negative explicit atheist: I do not believe that god exists, but will not go so far to say that the statement is true. I accept that while the god hypothesis is wildly improbable, the minute potential for god to exist in some way, shape, or form rules out the absolute statement that god doesn’t exist. I cannot in good scientific faith say that god does not exist. I do say, however, that the existence of god is so improbable that it is irrational to accept it over the null hypothesis that he does not. I believe the well-substantiated theory of evolution offers sufficient explanation of our origins and is the backbone of good science.

I am not sad that there is most likely no god. I am not bitter; I do not despair. I am joyful. The absence of god is a supreme comfort to me. The realization that god does not exist, and that I could and should, in Dawkins’ words, stop worrying and get on with my life, lifted a huge burden of guilt off of my shoulders. The moment of my deconversion was my moment of salvation. I experienced the kind of bliss that believers attach to their moments of conversion.

I do not believe that humans are born flawed, broken, ruined by sin. I believe that view is harmful and psychologically damaging. It creates a society that is so busy trying to fix the individual that it never has time to fix the multitude. It teaches people that they are bad, and that they will never be good enough. It teaches people that the only reason they aren’t worthless is because a supreme being did something they did not deserve when he fixed them.

I believe we whole, capable of both immense good and immense evil. I think we will be judged not by god, but by history and our peers.

I believe everyone has a right to believe whatever they would like, provided they do not use that belief to harm others. I have found very few religious beliefs that fit this condition, but if they exist, I see no threat from them. I will not, however, treat religion with the reverence it does not deserve. I will not openly mock the religious people I care about for precisely that reason: I care about them. But I believe I do them a disservice if I refuse to discuss our mutually incompatible beliefs. Out of respect for them, I believe in a dialogue.

I do not believe in proselytization. I find it intellectually offensive. I welcome discussion and debate of ideas. I believe in the marketplace of ideas, in the natural selection of memes, that leads to greater understanding and a more ethical life.

And I believe I have the right to say all this.