I had no idea Victoria Jackson was this deluded.

I never watched SNL regularly so I mostly only remember her fondly from the movie UHF, though I wonder if she was always this ridiculous or she grew into more recently. At one point she actually cites President Obama’s support of abortion and same sex marriage as evidence that is a not a Christian, but a Muslim. Does she have any clue what Muslims believe? I mean, while I’m sure you could probably dig up some liberal Muslims who support same sex marriage, the religion as a whole is probably the only religion in the world less accepting of these two things than Christianity. 

Posted in Atheism, Politics, WTF? | Leave a comment

What’s so bad about being an evangelical atheist?

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So, a day or two ago on Facebook I ran into the meme on the right. If a Christian had shared it I might have taken them to task right then and there, but instead it was a fellow atheist who was sharing the meme so they and others could laugh at it. Now I don’t have any particular problem with people laughing at a silly argument, but unfortunately I found the most common argument against this meme being employed by many of the atheists in this thread to be terrible. I don’t agree with the meme either and I’m going to discuss why shortly, but first I want to deal with the terrible argument in question.

Basically the argument they were making was that it was impossible for atheists to evangelize because atheism is only a position on a single question, which seems to be a rather popular argument for atheists to make in a variety of situations. Now, there are a few narrow discussions in which I think it’s reasonable to point out that atheism is technically only a position on the question of god’s existence, but this is not one of those discussions. First off, even if we were just talking about that one question it would be entirely possible for an atheist to work very hard and convincing other people of their position on that question, secondly most atheists hold a host of other beliefs and ideas which, while not specifically atheism, often have followed from the persons atheism, humanistic moral values for instance. The fact is, if you only define being evangelical as trying to convince other people that your view on some subject is the correct one, then there is no reason an atheist could not be evangelical about their views about god, religion, politics or anything else they care deeply about…and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that in my opinion

This is where I think the meme gets things really wrong. Of course, it’s possible that there might be atheists out there who think that it’s always wrong to try to convince other people of your views (though I tend to see this attitude more often among post-modern theists than among atheists) and yes, if such an atheist went out trying to convert people that would hypocritical. However, I suspect that atheists who think this way are not the ones who write blogs and speak at conventions, or on podcasts, about their ideas. Those atheists, the ones like me, don’t think trying to convince people to change their minds about controversial subjects is either futile or unethical, but it actually quite important.

Further, the problem we have with evangelical Christians is not that they try to convince us their beliefs are true. That is one of the few traits of evangelicals that, at least, I respect. First, in so far as the actual debate goes, I think they are wrong about many of the conclusions they accept, but more importantly, in the context of this discussion, I often disagree with the WAY in which they try to argue for those beliefs. In short, rather than trying to use reason and evidence to convince people they often employ underhanded tactics and emotional manipulation. They force conversations on people who don’t want them, and treat them like projects instead of people. They often act more like a snake oil salesman than person who interested in a reasonable discussion with an equal, It’s in this that I have a big problem with their behavior. So as far as atheism goes, I have no problem with being “evangelical” so long as you do it in an ethical manner.

You can read my previous post about why I’m reluctant to be friends with evangelicals to hear more of my thoughts on the behavior of evangelicals.

Posted in Atheism, Ethics | Leave a comment

Why I, as an ex-Christian, am reluctant to be friends with evangelicals.

IntolerantAs an atheist who publicly criticizes religion in it’s various forms it’s not uncommon for me to end up in a debate or conversation with a Christian. Often these conversations include, at some point, a claim that they want to be friends. I generally do not trust such requests and either refuse or ignore them, which usually results in them claiming I’m not treating them fairly.

I’m often told that the reason I won’t be their friend is because I’m bigoted against Christians, or that I’m trying to disengage because I know that their arguments are better than mine, but the truth is much more simple, I don’t trust that their request for friendship is genuine.

To understand why I feel this way you have to go back to the long ago days of 1997. I had just started college and I joined a campus ministry called Student Mobilization. I was active in this group through the five years I attended college. I believed that those who died without trusting Jesus as their savior would spend eternity in hell, and I spent a significant amount of time either trying to convert people or thinking about how to better convert people. I really can’t stress how much focus was spent on missions and evangelism.

The last two years of college the person in charge of the ministry championed an idea called “process evangelism.” Plenty of debate had existed in these groups over two different approaches to evangelizing, cold turkey, or instant evangelism and a sort of relationship evangelism based around forming long term friendships. Those who were in the instant came argued that this allowed us to go out and share with as many people as possible, and those who argued for a more relationship focus said that each individual attempt had a better chance of conversion because you could tailor your evangelism to the person. “Process” attempted to combine both tactics, rather than forming long term relationships the goal was to form short term friendship in order to find out of the person was “receptive to the gospel.” If they weren’t then you would drop them and move on. People argued this allowed you to evangelize many people like cold turkey, but still get to know people just enough to attempt to tailor your approach.

It should be clear from all of this that people actively involved in trying to convert people spend a lot of time figuring out how to best work at converting other people. Now there isn’t anything inherently wrong with trying to convince other people that they are wrong about something nor is there anything necessarily wrong with discussing the best ways of doing that convincing, atheists like myself do both of these things. However, I do think that certain tactics, including the ones used by many evangelicals, while potentially effective are fundamentally immoral. This brings me to many of the problems I have with many evangelists.

First, and most obviously, their tactics are dishonest. When you look at something like process evangelism it should be clear that the people using such tactics are essentially pretending to be friends in order to gain personal knowledge to use to manipulate their target. They may excuse this behavior in their own mind by claiming it’s for the greater good (saving the target from hell) but it doesn’t change the nature of the behavior, and I think it’s fundamentally unethical to try to change another persons mind with anything other than reasoned discourse. Of course not all of the evangelists out there would actually name what they are doing so openly, even among their own such a blatant admission is often controversial. However, while many would say, and even truly believe, that they want genuine friendship with unbelievers the fact is that many often use knowledge gained through that “friendship” to manipulate people into believing.

The second thing that bugs me is that friendships ought to develop organically but I often feel as if evangelists are trying to force friendship. Take an example of a conversation I had on my blog a few years ago in which this was said by a commenter.

I don’t know if you know much about me but I am good friends with a few prominent local atheists. We get along fine, all the while going back and forth.

I see it is much more difficult with you, Dylan. Why? Name-calling, swearing, and anger flow readily from your keyboard. It doesn’t have to be this way! We can disagree in a cordial manner. This doesn’t mean we ignore our differences or that we automatically watch cartoons together, but isn’t there a better way?

If you follow the conversation you will see that what he refers to as anger was frustration at having him demand I answer his questions and justify everything I believed while actively refusing to reply to my own questions or concerns, but the manipulation is pretty clear. Since he gets along fine with other atheists it must be my fault. Statements like this make me feel as if the speaker is trying to manipulate me into being their friend, by suggesting that if I do anything else I’m a bad person. I can’t think of a single friendship I’ve ever had that started with either one of us saying “hey let’s be friends” yet I find it a very common sentiment in these discussions. If you act like I’m obligated to be your friend, or that there is something wrong with me when I rebuff an offer of friendship then I’m less likely than ever to want to be your friend because I think of such tactics as bullying.

Another thing that often bars me from being friends is that many evangelists think they know me better than I know myself. When I debate with Christians and other theists I may disagree with them, quite strongly in some cases, but I generally try to assume that their accounting of their beliefs and the reasons they hold those beliefs are genuine, this is often not the case with those on the other side. Now this isn’t entirely their fault, the bible has multiple passages in it which claim that those who do not believe in the biblical god are in some sort of denial.

19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.  Romans :19-21

The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good. Psalm 14:1

These and many other passages are used to argue that if you don’t believe in the Christian god you are lying to yourself. If they take me, and other atheists, at their word when we account for our beliefs they would have to deny the inerrancy of the bible which they refuse to do, so they claim that the bible is accurate which means they must conclude we are either lying or extremely deluded. I’m not likely to form a friendship with someone who thinks this way about me, but, even worse, it often makes it difficult to debate in good faith on any subject relating to their religious beliefs, though I do try.

Now I’ll clarify as bit here, none of this is to say that I cannot or that I am not ever friends with any Christians. Though, like most people, most of my closest friends tend to share my religious and/or political leanings, I’m more than willing to befriend people who disagree with me on any number of things, indeed refusing to be friends with people who disagree with me would be both impossible and at odds with my desire to approach all ideas with skepticism. However, there is a difference between a naturally developed friendship between people who then sometimes debate subjects on which they disagree, and a person who shows up with the express purpose of converting me (which is not really the same as a debate between two equals) who then proceeds to think that I owe them friendship. Even then if I were to find out that one of those friends actually held such thoughts about me I would likely pull away from them.

The problems for me are clear, evangelists are largely not interested in genuine debate or friendship. They are pretending to care about those things in order to convert me, and are willing to engage in unethical tactics like the pretense of friendship and emotional manipulation to make that conversion happen. On top of that they tend to believe some pretty terrible things about, not only atheists like myself, but anyone who doesn’t share their religious beliefs, including many Christians who hold more liberal or moderate views about their religion. I know all of this so well because, for many years, I was one of these evangelicals. I’m happy to debate with them, I’ll even do it civilly so far as I’m able to do so, but I’m not interested in being friends, unless they clearly distance themselves from this kind of behavior, but as common as these views are among evangelicals I won’t hold my breath.

More on my issues with Christian manipulation: Kirsten Powers conversion story makes me sad.

Read more about my deconversion here here and here.

Posted in Atheism | 2 Comments

Review of God, Guns, Grits, and Gravy, chapters 1-3.

Just uploaded my first in my series reviewing this book.

Let me know what you think.

Posted in Atheism, Politics | Leave a comment

Boehner on the ACA, or why I don’t trust Republicans to have actual solutions.

Mitch McConnell and John Boehner appeared on 60 minutes a couple of days ago and the interviewer asked them, since they are opposed to the ACA, what their alterative to fixing healthcare is.

You can watch the interaction here:

Let’s look at Boehner’s response.

Providing more access we could have done without taking control of the entire healthcare system.

OK, first off the ACA did not, by any reasonable standard, take control of the entire system. The government doesn’t own the hospitals, or the insurance companies, it regulated them more than it did before, but it isn’t as if there was no government regulation prior to the ACA.

When you look at Obamacare, it’s a perfect example of what Washington does. It’s a one size fits all approach for the whole country all driven by Washington bureaucrats.

The ACA doesn’t offer one plan for everyone, as I understand it they offer three major plan options through the exchanges, so it isn’t exactly one size fits all. Further, even without government involvement, insurance companies are already more concerned about overall trends than individual needs, so the ACA doesn’t really change much in this regard.

I’ll bet they’ve hired tens of thousands of people between the IRS and over at Health and Human Services just to run this. All of the decisions, all of the rules decided by Washington.

He bets? John Boehner is speaker of the house, third in line to be president. Further, he has spent the majority of the last four years criticizing the ACA, and one of his major criticisms of it is that it expands bureaucracy. So how is it that he doesn’t have any figures on this? He should have figures like this memorized, but could have at least found out before an interview where the subject was likely to come up.

We have a wide, diverse country, and I just think it’s time for us to look at this differently. For those who don’t have access to affordable health insurance.

A meaningless stream of buzz words meant to sound nice without actually saying anything of substance. In other words the way politicians speak most of the time.

Helping those at the bottom I think we’re all for it

Since Boehner is a major player in a political party in which many have spent the last few years suggesting that people at the bottom are only there because they are lazy moochers, it’s hard to take this claim seriously.

but we don’t need Washington to ruin the greatest health delivery system that the world has ever known.

Wait…If it’s the greatest delivery system ever then why didn’t he simply say we don’t need any changes at all? The ACA was introduced because said system was not delivering very well to millions of people. Further, by many of the metrics that we measure human health the U.S. is far from the best. For instance, We currently rate 36 in life expectancy. It also seems that the implication of this argument is that the only thing the government can ever do is make things worse.

Taken in it’s entirety the statement he made was largely vacuous, he spends the entire time attacking the ACA, but offers little in the way of facts to back up his attacks, and he offers no republican solution to healthcare, or, you know, the question he was actually asked.

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Children don’t owe their parents a relationship

This morning I read a post by Libby Anne in which she criticized another article written by a woman who was complaining about the estrangement of her two sons. I agree with Libby Anne that the woman seemed to be engaged in a lot of rationalizations, she was certain she didn’t deserve the estrangement, but clearly doesn’t tell the whole story; more on that in a little bit.

This happens to be an article that hits close to home for me. I’ve mulled over blogging about this, but last month after another series of fights with my parents, and several conversations with my wife about the issue, I reached the conclusion that it was necessary to cut off my parents permanently. A choice that was further justified by the fact that even after I made my position clear to my parents they showed up unannounced at my In-law’s house (where my wife and I were staying for Christmas) then proceeded demand they be allowed to see our daughter, and, being denied that, attempted to impugn my character to anyone who would listen.

This brings me back to the article Libby Anne linked to.

Parents tell stories of ill-spoken words, of misunderstanding, of unhelpful interference from others. Much of what they describe, while conflict-laden and uncomfortable, doesn’t seem bad enough to have caused estrangement. The scenarios don’t appear to warrant a total cutoff. At least not according to the way I was raised. I hear that phrase a lot, too.

Most of the parents I talk to are boomers, who share similar values and beliefs, including thoughts on how parents should be treated. The similarities I’ve seen in stories about how they lost contact with their children created a new direction for my research — our culture.

There is something very telling about this quote. I’ll grant that if you listen to individual stories they probably don’t seem bad enough for a cut off. I doubt any single story I could tell  about my family would make people conclude that estrangement was the only option. I suspect this is a common problem though, when people hear you cut off a family member they think of things like physical abuse, but for many, like me, it’s not about any single event but a pattern of behavior typified by emotional manipulation, passive aggression, and microaggressions, that make being around the family member toxic.

Though, what is really telling is her statement about “how parents should be treated.” The implication is that children don’t have the right to cut their parents out of their lives. This reading of her statement is further bolstered by a later statement.

In the past, elders’ experiences were valued and their children listened to them. Estrangement did happen, but it appeared to be reserved for parents cutting off a wayward child — the “black sheep” of the family.

She doesn’t even imply here, she practically outright states that the only allowable use of estrangement is of a parent who cuts off a bad child. Children, even those who have reached adulthood, seem to have little to no autonomy or rights when it comes to familial relationships. Now, I can’t actually know the motivations of my parents, nor am I likely to ask them at this point, but her reasoning certainly seems quite similar to that of my parents. My mother, at one point, claimed, whatever the state of our relationship, she had a right to see her granddaughter. A right which she presumably thinks supersedes my own right to deny her such access.

In my opinion such demands are wrong, but don’t just take my word for it. Sidney Poitier probably says it better than I ever could.

If you aren’t familiar with the movie “Guess who’s coming to Dinner” I suggest watching the whole thing. It’s a rather brilliant movie. Just before this scene Poitier’s father says that he is owed respect for all of the work he put into raising Poitier. The response is perfect. No child owes their parents anything, when you have a child you own them all you can do for them. If you think that you are OWED a relationship with them then it won’t surprise me when your children don’t want to be around you. Rather it is we who are obligated to our children to the be the kinds of people who they will want in their lives when they become adults.

Posted in Ethics, Parenting | 2 Comments

Why I won’t join in group prayers or other religious practices

imagesChristmas, more than any other time of the year, is full various religious rituals, so the question of how deal with them comes up often. Theists, and even other atheists, often have trouble understanding why I (and many other atheists) won’t participate in these things, particularly at this time of year. so I’d like to offer an answer to this question as best I can.

It seems that many Christians seem to think I’m refusing because I’m intentionally trying to ruin things for them, or wonder why I can’t just bow my head an play along for their sake. Likewise, I’ve known some atheists to think I’m just creating unnecessary drama by putting my foot down over something very minor.

One thing I’ve noticed about most of the atheists who hold this opinion is that, unlike me, they were never religious in the first place. Like Jordan Klepper’s recent piece on the Daily show where he accused other atheists of being “dicks” because they wouldn’t just close their eyes for a few seconds to pretend to pray so they could get a discount.

The difference is that once upon a time I was a Christian, and in the most serious sense of that term. Forget a prayer over Christmas dinner. I prayed over nearly every meal I ate for somewhere around 4 years. This was in college so most of those meals were eaten in a very public dining hall. Yet, every time I sat down I closed my eyes, bowed and said a short prayer, but that was not the half of it. I also got up early and prayed for half an hour quite often. (I intended to do it every day, but I was college student) I would sometimes visit the chapel on my campus in the evenings,  pull out my guitar and sing praise songs for a while. Maybe that stuff sounds cheesy to some people, and I sure bet that most people who read this, even the religious ones, find such behavior somewhat extreme or bizarre.

Perhaps you think I was taking this religion thing a bit too seriously, but to me it was serious. To me, at that time, prayer was a deliberate act of communication with the all powerful creator of the universe. It was a religious ritual that meant I was doing something incredibly important.

Now you might point out that I no longer believe any of these things, and you would be right. I don’t believe in god, so I certainly don’t believe prayer is any sort of actual communication, and I certainly have no respect for the Christian religion. However, I do have respect for many people who are Christians, and even more importantly I have respect for the notion of things like ritual and tradition, and I don’t think joining in or partaking in things like a prayer at a family gathering shows respect for either of those things.

As for respecting the people themselves I would ask to to imagine you have some relative with a crazy belief, say flat earth or that the moon landings were a hoax. You see them on the holidays and they start droning on about their pet conspiracy theory. To keep the peace you tune them out, but don’t bother correcting them or even trying to discuss the issue with them. Did you do this because you respect them? My guess is that would be a no. You don’t say anything because you don’t expect to be able to change their mind with reasoned argument, you don’t even think it is worth your time to tell them you disagree with them. That is not respect in my opinion.

On the second point I would argue that rituals and traditions are supposed to point to something real. Would anyone say it’s okay for someone to say their wedding vows but not really mean them, to just go through the motions because that is what is expected? Rituals are important, they are a vital part of what ties all of us together, and if we only pretend to care about them, if we only go through the motions, then we destroy the very things that make us a society rather than just a bunch of individuals milling around in the same general vicinity.

So to my fellow atheists who don’t see what the big deal is, I hope that if this post doesn’t change your own behavior in this regard it at least lets you understand why others like myself don’t think this is such a small issue after all. Finally, to all the Christians out there who are annoyed, angered or frustrated with that one atheist relative who asks to be excused from participating in the dinner prayer, perhaps you might cut them some slack and realize that, just maybe, they aren’t doing it because they don’t like you, they are doing it because they respect the real meaning behind that prayer too much to fake it.

Posted in Atheism, Christmas | Leave a comment

More than half of Fox News statements which Politifact rated were false.

So Pundit Fact recently publishes figures, based upon Politifacts fact checking, which examine how often each of the major news networks got their facts right. Unsurprisingly Fox News continually scores the worst in this examination.

Statements made on FOX.

Their current highest score is in false claims, and they got a combined score from “pants on fire,” “false,” and “mostly false” of 61%, while “true,” and “mostly true” statements combine for a paltry 21%

MSNBC didn’t do that great either, but at least it’s combination of false statements still falls 20% lower than Fox at 41%, CNN actually scored much better than both, scoring 55% in mostly true or better statements, and getting only 22% in mostly false or worse.

These reports should make us examine the news we consume on any station carefully. Further it should be noted that politifact doesn’t fact check every claim so it’s possible that the figures are not accurate as a general reference to the stations. On the other hand why on earth would people chose to get news from a source that, when checked, is wrong more than 3/5 of the time?

Posted in Fox News, Politics | Leave a comment

Fake news, not just for Fox News anymore.

It makes me so darn angry how the liberals in this country are secularizing Christian holidays right out of existence, when Jesus celebrated Easter with his disciples there were no Easter bunnies or egg hunts”   – Sarah Palin

I read the report, Sean, and there’s nothing in there at all that says we tortured these terrorists. If anything we fed and cared for them, just as Jesus would have.  -Michele Bachmann

1508609_904675299565741_8695985613542046741_nWhat do these quotes have in common? Well they both come from conservatives well known for saying crazy things. They were both shared in meme form through a Facebook page entitled “Stop the world the Teabaggers want off” Oh…also they are both fake. Yes, that’s right neither one of these things were actually said by the person they are attributed to.

I did a bit of digging, and by digging I mean I did 10 minutes of goggling, to find the source of these quotes. The first one comes from a “news story” from the satire site The Daily Current.

The second I could find no references too at all. She made a goodbye speech in congress recently. However, according to the Meme I found making this claim she made this statement on Sean Hannity’s radio show yesterday, (12/10/2014) yet I can’t find any proof she even appeared on his show on this date. In fact I checked her Facebook page, and while she regularly posts links or info about her public appearances there is no reference to her appearing on Hannity at all on that date.

I actually attempted to reach out to “Stop the world the Teabaggers want off.” I.E. I posted in the comments of the second photo pointing out that the quote appears to be fake, and they refused to respond in any meaningful way. When I asked them if they would fact check the quote themselves and remove it if they could not find proof the quote was real I got complete silence from them. I’ll update this post if that changes, but this Facebook page is hardly the only offender.

This lackadaisical engagement with fact checking is especially troubling given how many people are depending on social media networks like Facebook to get news and information. That being said I have several recommendations for those who want to help change this.

  1. Fact check things yourself. When you see a meme or story involving someone saying something stupid, crazy, or crazy stupid, it’s tempting to just click share or retweet. I certainly can’t claim I’ve never done just the same thing. I started being more careful when I noticed, or others pointed out, that I had shared untrue statements. I’m not suggesting hours of research, you can usually find out whether or not these quotes are real by spending a couple of minutes searching Google.
  2. Assume that others care about sharing correct information until you are proven otherwise. When you notice that something is fake let the person or page that shared it know that it is fake or suspect information.
  3. If they are not responsive to those reports or continue to post fake information regularly un-follow them and let those who do care about factual accuracy know that they are not a trusted source of news. If posting fake articles and quotes stops attracting followers then maybe we can force those who do it to care despite their inclinations.
Posted in Politics | 4 Comments

Fox News claims that American Atheist’s new billboard is proof that we are bullies.

So every Christmas for the last several years American Atheists put up billboards.

For those who don’t know, this is the one they decided to use this year:

Christmas-2014-Billboard-FINAL (1)

 

Now, I personally have mixed feelings about the billboard. I generally support Amercian Atheists and have found David Silverman to be a likable person the few times I’ve met him, and I also think the the stated goal of the billboards is good.

The billboards are aimed at in-the-closet atheists who are pressured to observe religious traditions during the holidays

On the other hand, I think this intended message is not terribly clear. As Hemant Mehta noted over on Friendly Atheist, it doesn’t really make sense for someone who doesn’t believe in God be writing to Santa. I also don’t think it’s really clear who the target audience is, particularly since they used a stock image of a child.

Of course, O’Reilly, needing his regular dose of conspiratorial ranting about a war on Christmas, pounced on the billboard with all the careful nuance and thoughtfulness we have come to expect from him. In other words neither of those things.

O’Reilly starts out by claiming that the billboard was arguing for kids to skip church service. Of course, as I acknowledged, using a child probably wasn’t the best choice to make the billboards intention clear, but O’Reilly at least likes to pretend to be a real journalist so you might think he would have bothered to read the statement, I linked above, from American Atheists, explaining the purpose of the sign which would have made it clear that he was wrong about the purpose of the message.

Now, I do appreciate that they correctly identified Danielle Muscato, in the short clip they played, by her chosen name, but I’m sure that was mostly because that was the name she provided them and not because of any sensitivity to transsexual issues on the part of Fox News or O’Reilly.

Next they bring on psychotherapist Karen Ruskin. I’ve written about Keith Ablow in the past, another Fox psychology commentator, but I hadn’t seen her before so I did a little bit of digging. I couldn’t find out much about her except that she has written a book on parenting, but on her own site she describes her approach thusly:

She tells you like it is with compassion, passion, professionalism, and humor.

It’s too bad she didn’t comport herself in such a manner in this interview. She gives a stilted psychological analysis of the kinds of people who put up the billboard even though she has never interacted with any of them as a therapist, which is rather unprofessional, and then moves on saying that the atheists doing this are “bullies,” and “gang like.” She half-heartedly says that not all atheists are “as nasty” but then she says the reason for the behavior is that we are uncomfortable in that belief,  which seems to subtly suggests that our reason for this behavior is because we really believe in God.  In other words her language if full of the kinds if invective and insults she claims the exists in the billboard.

To respond to Dr. Ruskin I’m going to say something that should not be controversial, but apparently it needs to be said. If a person holds a view contrary to yours, and they express that view on a billboard, a blog, a video, or any other media format YOU ARE NOT BEING BULLIED.

I cannot really stress this enough, the mere act of disagreeing with a view you hold, no matter how important that view happens to be to you personally, is not an act of bullying. You are not being ganged up on. If someone physically assaults you, you are being bullied, if someone threatens you, you are being bullied, if someone tries to pass laws that take away your civil rights you are being bullied, but if someone says something on a billboard that you don’t like you are NOT being bullied. Unless, of course, what is being said is an actual threat, which is not the case here.

Further, if we were going to fight over who publishes the most hateful billboards Christians would not win that one. I point you to this billboard claiming that atheists are all guilty of treason, and suggesting we be removed from this country by force.

screen_shot_2014-05-02_at_2.02.57_pm

That is just the tip of the iceberg. Just last week a pastor in my old home town proposed that Christians get together and start murdering gay people to end the AIDS epidemic. THAT is what bullying looks like.

By using the term “bullying” here she is actually diminishing the struggles that people who face actual bulling go through, and as someone who was a victim of bullying as a child that makes me rather angry. I would like to expect better from a trained psychotherapist, but sadly this is the kind sloppy behavior I’ve come to expect from fox news pundits.

O’Reilly goes on to act confused that anyone would do something in such “poor taste.” After all Christmas is a great time of year and everyone loves it and has a good time with their families and the gifts and all that. In this I can’t even ask for a better example of privilege. Of course Christmas is a great time if you are a Christian like O’Reilly.

However if you are an atheist, particularly when the rest of your family is deeply religious, it can be an alienating experience. At it’s best the rest of your religious family will still love and respect you. They will respect your wishes to not participate in certain overtly religious ceremonies that you might make you uncomfortable, and will do their best to make you a part of the things you are comfortable with while not calling undue attention to your disagreements. It can still be uncomfortable because there will probably parts of the celebration that make you feel like an outsider, but it can still be an enjoyable experience for everyone.

However at it’s worst religious holidays like Christmas become mine field. Family members will push you to partake in religious ceremonies, even after you have stated you aren’t interested and do their best to make you feel guilty or uncomfortable if you put your foot down. Year after year they will conveniently seem to forget boundaries you set in previous years and in some cases even, at least seem to, forget you are an atheist. If you are a teenager or still partially financially dependent on them it can be even worse given the fundamentalist tendency towards authoritarian parental methods. They may literally threaten you with punishments or financial ruin if you don’t acquiesce to demands that you partake in religious aspects of the holiday or even pretend to share their beliefs, essentially attempting to curtail your freedom of conscience.  Then, if all of that wasn’t bad enough, when all of this behavior guarantees that you will find the holiday less than festive they will complain that you are being a downer, and demand you enjoy the holiday like you are supposed to. You don’t even have a right to your own emotional reactions.

However, if you listen to Ruskin she goes back to her theory of bullying to declare that in those cases it’s all the atheists fault, because of course she does. They both lack any capacity for empathy or even attempt to acknowledge that they (and these families she mentions) might share even the tiniest bit of blame for the situation.

Also rather than acknowledge that many atheists in these situations just want to be respected and have their opinions heard, she claims that these situations are typified by the atheist making authoritarian demands that everyone else adopt their beliefs. An odd claim given that atheists have, by and large, rejected authoritarian justifications for beliefs, but nonetheless A narrative that I, myself, have been falsely accused of by my own family long enough to give up even the mildest hope of some kind of reconciliation or compromise. I’m sure in many of these situations there is a failure to listen on both sides of the fence, but Ruskin is clearly picking sides and her statements are mostly designed to add fuel to the fire rather than facilitate any sort of reconciliation. It’s hard to imagine how she maintains her license if this is how she behaves in her practice.

Amusingly enough, Dr. Ruskin ends the interview by saying that people deny there is a “War on Christmas” because, “just like any kind of denial, if you don’t allow yourself to believe a certain reality then you can stay in your belief system.” Somehow, I doubt they appreciate the irony of that statement.

Posted in Atheism, Christmas, War on Christmas | 1 Comment