Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Atheist group raises funds for charity in honor of murdered North Carolina Muslims

Atheists and humanists around the world, including me, have condemned the murder of Deah Shaddy Barakat (23), his wife Yusor Mohammad (21), and her sister Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha (19) in North Carolina.

Deah Barakat was pursuing his doctorate in dentistry at UNC Chapel Hill and planned to travel to Syrian refugee camps this summer to perform emergency dentistry for refugee children through the Syrian American Medical Society Foundation (SAMS). At the time of his murder, Deah Barakat was raising funds for SAMS to equip the teams in the refugee camps.

Foundation Beyond Belief mounted a drive for SAMS in support of Deah's vision and in one week raised $20,125 for SAMS. Congrats, fellow atheists, secular humanists and other free thinkers for showing the compassion I have felt again and again from you all.

You can still donate to the Syrian American Medical Society Foundation!

Friday, February 13, 2015

No, I won't apologize - just as you won't

How is that so many Muslims that were outraged by calls for all Muslims to apologize for the murders of the Charlie Hebdo staff are now calling for all atheists to apologize for the murders of the college students in Chapel Hill, North Carolina?

I am horrified and disgusted by the murders of Shaddy Barakat, Yusor Mohammad and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha.

I'm also an atheist, and I feel no compulsion whatsoever to claim any responsibility for their deaths. None.

Atheism means just one thing: no belief in a god or the supernatural. That's it. There are nice people that are atheists. There are rude people that are atheists. There are humanitarians that are atheists. There are murderers that are atheists. Atheism doesn't drive any of those characteristics or actions.

I refuse to say the name of the man who murdered those three people in North Carolina - he doesn't deserve to have his name said. Anyone who would let their fury over parking or religion... or satirical, insulting cartoons... lead them to believe that they are entitled to murder is completely beyond my understanding.

I do find it interesting that the murderer's first ex-wife told The Associated Press that, before they divorced about 17 years ago, his favorite movie was "Falling Down," the 1993 Michael Douglas film about a white, divorced, unemployed engineer on a shooting rampage, a film that was roundly criticized at the time as racist. She said, "That always freaked me out. He watched it incessantly. He thought it was hilarious. He had no compassion at all." Neighbors told reporters that the murderer was known for angrily confronting people over just about anything, from loud music to parking. One neighbor described him as prone to "equal opportunity anger" and she said that, last year, the situation got so bad that his neighbors organized a meeting "to talk about how he kind of made everyone feel uncomfortable and unsafe." His Facebook posts show a far greater hatred of Christianity than any other religion.

This was SO much more than hating these students for their religion. SO MUCH MORE. But even if it wasn't, it's still beyond disgusting. No matter what the reason, it's horrific.

I'm gobsmacked that a person that said he supported marriage equality, abortion rights and civil rights for all races could, at the same time, be so full of arrogance, entitlement and hatred - but, then again, I'm also confused by people that say they are members of a religion of peace, or follow a "prince of peace," can murder people - and they do, frequently. Hatred can, apparently, eat away the heart of anyone, religious or atheist alike.

So, no, I'm not going to apologize for this wacko, just as Muslims refuse to apologize for the Charlie Hebdo murderers, the September 11, 2001 murderers, the Peshawar school murders, and on and on. Just as Christians refuse to apologize for the Wisconsin Sikh temple murders, the murder of Dr. George Tiller, the Centennial Olympic Park bomber, the Spanish Inquisition, the mass killings of American Indians, the Nazis using Christianity to justify the Holocaust, and on and on.

Instead, I'm going to honor the memory of these three people by supporting the fundraising effort to provide urgent dental care to Syrian refugees that was launched by one of these murdered students. I'm going to support more gun ownership restrictions and speak out about the glamorization of gun ownership by the NRA and other groups - as tabulated by the Violence Policy Center, this was the 29th shooting involving three or more victims by a concealed handgun permit holder since mid-2007.

I'm going to continue to encourage people get a handle on outrage and fury - especially when they think they've been insulted. Being insulted is NOT being oppressed.

Peace, people. Peace.

Also see:

I get insulted. But I don't murder. 

Do religions know what "peace" means? or "irony"?

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Pro-choice, LGBT-affirming, otherwise non-annoying religious groups on Facebook

I'm an atheist, but I express my support for progressive arms of various religions because, if people are going to believe in a magical invisible super friend, I hope they will also believe that such a super friend supports things like women's equality, marriage equality, etc. , and that he or she or whatever does NOT want followers to force religious practice on anyone. So I'm always on the lookout for religious organizations that fit that bill, especially on Facebook.

I also find it fascinating that the same religious teachings that many people use to justify the oppression of women, the murder of satirists, the bombing of health clinics, the enslavement of people, and on and on, is used by many other people to fight against such.

Promoting these organizations is a great way to counter fundamentalism; if believers in a magical invisible super friend can also see that there are alternatives to religious practices of intolerance, oppression and violence, maybe they'll join up - they'll be a lot happier. We all will be a lot happier.

Some progressive Christian organizations that you might want to like and follow on Facebook:
Also see this list from Wikipedia of LGBT-affirming churches

Some of the progressive Islamic organizations I have found and "liked" on Facebook are:

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

I get insulted. But I don't murder.

The images or statements promote ideas I find abhorrent. The images, or the statements, or the ideas, make my heart race. I can feel myself starting to shake when I see them or hear them. I feel as though I have been punched in the stomach, or slapped hard on the face. I’m outraged. I’m angry. I’m insulted. I’m demeaned.

Sometimes, I sit and seethe quietly. Sometimes, I have to walk away and try to calm myself down. Sometimes, I have tears in my eyes. Sometimes, I shake with anger so much I cannot hold anything in my hand. Sometimes, I can’t sleep that night. The images insult. They attack my dignity. They humiliate. They hurt.

My outrage is valid. My pain is real. And sometimes it’s not enough to just change the channel or turn off the TV, to close the magazine, to close the browser window, to unlike the Facebook page, to unfollow that Twitter feed, to walk out of the store, to walk out of the gathering. Sometimes, I respond. I write the person, or call the company, or sign a petition, and rally my friends to do the same, explaining why the image is insulting or painful or both. I work to make my point of view heard and understood, often joining a chorus of equally-outraged others.

Sometimes, the company or comedian or performer or politician or pundit apologizes. Sometimes, they don’t, but there is a noticeable decline in offensive images or statements. Sometimes, they are defiant, they double down, they present those offensive images or statements again and again, and so I boycott the company or person. I refuse to be a part of what they produce. Maybe others do too. And that means I can no longer watch or read something I used to enjoy.

Sometimes, I lose friends because of their disagreement with my outrage. Sometimes, I have to walk out of a home or church or business, never to return, and my life is altered, maybe forever.

What has me so outraged? I’m not going to say. It would be a LONG list. But what has me outraged is not the point of this blog.

The point of this blog is to say that no group has a monopoly on outrage or pain from outrageous images or statements. And no insult justifies violence.

Religions get insulted. Ethnic groups get insulted. Communities get insulted. Women get insulted. Individuals get insulted. Bigotry can hurt. Sexism can hurt. Blasphemy can hurt. The pain is real. I get that. I've lived it. But that pain does NOT give you a right to harm someone physically. It does NOT give you a right to violence. It does NOT give you a right to kill.

I’m an atheist. I don’t live my life by religions texts, but by humanist beliefs that emphasize common human needs and rational, fair ways of solving our problems. Therefore, it shouldn’t matter what the Qur’an says about violence - whether it supports violence in return for insults or not - because I don't follow religious texts to live my life, and I refuse any efforts to force me to.

But it’s worth noting that freedom of speech is guaranteed in the Qur’an both through direct instruction as well as per how Muhammad is said to have responded to insults. The Qur’an says the Prophet was called insane, a liar, a fraud. Through all this, according to the Qur’an, the Prophet never retaliated or called for these people to be attacked or executed. The Qur’an says to “overlook their annoying talk” and to “bear patiently what they say.” It instructs Muslims to avoid the company of those who continue their derogatory attacks against Islam. The Qur’an tells believers not to be provoked by those who seem to attack Islam, stating very clearly “let not a people’s enmity incite you to act otherwise than with justice.”

For example:

 “When you see them engaged in vain discourse about Our Signs, turn away from them unless they engage in a different subject. If Satan ever makes you forget (i.e. your mind gets engrossed in their discourse,) then as soon as you recollect, no longer sit in the company of the people who confound the truth with falsehood.” – Qur’an 6:68

Also see Qur’an 2:256, 10:99, 18:29, 109:6, as summarized in this blog.

There’s another story about Muhammad, from Hadith rather than the Qur’an - some Muslims believe it, others don’t. But since belief in the story is widespread among Muslims, I’ll repeat it here: every day that Muhammad went to his mosque, a woman would come out of her home and throw her garbage on him. She didn't like his ideas, and this is how she expressed it. Muhammad didn’t respond. He just kept going to the mosque every day. But one day, the woman wasn’t there to throw things at him. So he entered her house to find out why, and he discovered that she was very ill. He cared for her and helped her recover. And he and the woman became friends.

Here's another blog about this legend.

My blog that you are reading is inspired not by the attacks in Paris, but the defense of the attacks. I’m reading comments that imply or outright say the murderers were “provoked.” As we say in my culture: BULLSHIT.

Like it or not, blasphemy is a human right. Insulting speech is a human right. Don't like it? Then you have two licit choices: get away from it so you do not have to hear or see it, or try to engage with those who are saying such to see why they think that way and if there is a way you can change their minds, through rational, peaceful means, to not say such things.

And before you say, "That's just not enough!", remember this: there is probably something you say or do or think that I find disgusting and/or insulting, every bit as hurtful as something you find disgusting and/or insulting. How would you feel about me trying to force you, through legal means or violent means, to not express that idea? You'd balk, of course.

Well, this is me. Balking.

One last thing: what I also find insulting is people who say, in trying to excuse the murderers and their supporters, "We can't expect everyone to embrace Western values" and "They were provoked because of how sacred they hold their religion." It's insulting to imply that respect for all human life and a belief in freedom of speech, even speech you don't like, is something unique to only European cultures and countries founded by such, that it's something not also cherished by people outside the West. It's insulting to imply that people outside of North America and Europe, or that Muslims, cannot grasp those values (if they don't already). And it's insulting because it implies that Islam is more precious than any other religion, deserving greater protection than any other religio - your silence over these anti-Semitic cartoons in newspapers in Muslim countries is deafening (meanwhile, if someone attacked any of these media outlets in the name of defending Judaism, I'd be saying all the same things now).

Also see: Do religions know what "peace" means? or "irony"?

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Do religions know what "peace" means? or "irony"?

A cartoon says your religion is violent. You are offended, and your response is to shoot someone or bomb something.

You say you are "pro-life" because of your religion. You blow up clinics and shoot doctors in the name of this belief.

And you wonder why I smirk when you say yours is a "religion of peace," or that you follow the "prince of peace."

I'm not fond of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, also known as the Mormon Church, because of what they say about women and their funding of the proposition in California to ban marriage equality, also known as proposition hate. But I was so impressed when I walked out of the musical The Book of Mormon, there were Mormons standing amid the crowd - not protesting, not shouting, but, instead, handing out the actual Book of Mormon and saying, "You've seen the musical, now read the book!"

I high-fived one of those Mormons and said, "That's awesome."

You have every right to counter a message with your own peaceful message. You have every right to be outraged by anything. You have every right to demonstrate that outrage, so long as it is not violent, nor oppressive. You have no right to violence against other humans. None.

Freedom of expression is not only a basic, universal human right - if you are responding to a criticism that says you are violent with violence, you're an idiot.

This attack in Paris today on the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo does far more to paint Islam as violent than any cartoon ever has.

I do not blame all Muslims for this. But I do believe that any Muslim who supports blasphemy laws, or who doesn't not believe in freedom of expression, even when he or she does not support what is being expressed, shares some of the blame for what has happened today in Paris.

My best wishes for safety to the staff of The Onion, to the guys at South Park, to James Franco and Seth Rogan, and to anyone else who has been threatened for their satire.

Liberté, égalité, fraternité

#JesuisCharlie
#CharlieHebdo
#vivalafrance
#imagine

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Ancient Mythic Origins of the Christmas Story

The familiar Christmas story, including the virgin conception and birth of Jesus, is found in the gospels of Matthew and Luke. Scholars have pointed out that these stories are somewhat disconnected from other parts of these Gospels and the rest of the New Testament. In fact, by the time he is a young boy in the temple, Jesus’s parents seem to have forgotten the virgin birth. They act surprised by his odd behavior. There is never any other mention in the New Testament of these incredible events! These stories seem to be an afterthought, written later than the rest of the gospels that contain them. To make matters more interesting, the stories themselves have inconsistencies and ambiguities – contradictory genealogies, for example. Our Christmas story (singular) is actually a composite. 

Or consider the idea that Mary is a virgin. The Greek writer of Matthew quotes Isaiah as saying: “a parthenos shall conceive and bear a child.” The Hebrew word in Isaiah is “almah,” which means simply “young woman.” But the Greek word parthenos can mean either a virgin or a young woman, and it got translated as “virgin.” Modern Bible translations have corrected this, but it is a central part of the Christmas story. 

Comments by Dr. Tony Nugent, scholar of world religions. Dr. Nugent is a symbologist, an expert in ancient symbols. He taught at Seattle University for fifteen years in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies and is an ordained Presbyterian minister. This is from an interview from 2009, Ancient Mythic Origins of the Christmas Story.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Lovely things that feel magical in the natural world

Hope
Love
Joy 
Wonder
Delight
Contentment
Resilience
Fulfillment
Aspirations
Optimism
Promise
Goodness

None of those things are supernatural. None are magic, though they can feel like something magical. They are all natural, all real, a part of our world, and, therefore, all are possible to experience. That means you can experience them without a belief in a god or gods. And atheists do, just as often, maybe even more often, than people that believe in the supernatural. 

I love experiencing all of these wonderful things. I don’t experience them every second of every day, but I experience these wonderful things far, far more often, and in greater abundance, since I stopped trying to believe in a magical, invisible super friend

Believers love to say you can't be happy without a god or gods. I wonder how they explain me?

Happy New Year!

Also see: