Friday, January 12, 2018

Magic, Kindness and Hope

Sometimes, when people find out I'm an atheist and that I do not believe in the supernatural, they will smugly say,

Well, I wouldn't want to live in a world without magic!

Sometimes, I don't respond. But sometimes, I just can't help myself, and I ask, "What do you mean by magic?"

And here's how the conversation goes:

Them: A world without things that are wonderous!

Me: I still live in a world where are wonderous. 

Them: A world where not everything can be explained!

Me: I still live in a world where not everything can be explained.

Them: A world where I see something and I feel awe, where I feel reverence!

Me: I still live in a world where I feel awe and reverence. 

I live in a world where there is no magic, where there is nothing outside physical laws, but where plenty around me feels magical. Knowing what creates a rainbow, or the Grand Canyon, or a "shooting star" doesn't make it any less than magical and wonderous for me.

It's similar when someone finds out I'm an atheist and smugly says,

Well, I wouldn't want to live in a world without hope!

I don't live in a world without hope. It's when I was trying to believe in God in my younger days that I was so hopeless - because I was told that the crap I was experiencing was "God's will." Now, I live in a UNIVERSE that's so much bigger, with so many, many more possibilities, than the world as described to me via Christianity.

I love get my hope renewed when I see someone be kind to someone else, not because they have to, not because they fear that some magical invisible man is in the sky and he will punish them if they aren't kind, but rather because that person feels a desire to help his or her fellow human, a desire that is inherent in humanity as a whole, regardless of religion or lack thereof. The March for Women in January 2017, the March for Science later that year, the outpouring of support for immigrants when Donald Trump tried to launch his first Muslim travel ban, the response of people wanting to volunteer after a disaster, someone helping a stranger on the bus, at the grocery store, on the street - it all gives me hope.

Looking at the periodical table fills me with awe - and I can't explain chemistry. I sometimes cry watching Nature or Nova because the world, the universe, is amazing! And there is so much that is unexplained. You see God in the unexplained; I see possibilities for ENDLESS scientific discovery.

And without God, hope is boundless, it is endless. All things are possible.

Friday, April 28, 2017

The Demon-Haunted World

I just finished The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark by Carl Sagan a few days ago. It's amazing - and it's shameful that it took me this long to finally read it.

In addition to destroying the "logic" of anti-science movements and new age movements, he also explores the glory and hope that science studies can give us. I watch Nova on PBS almost every week, and walk away from most every show full of wonder and hope and inspiration. Sagan's book begs network television to do that in its presentations of science - as well as to give equal time to science as it does charlatans: psychics, naturopaths, homeopaths, alien abductees, vaccine deniers, climate change deniers, etc.

But I was stunned at so many of the history lessons of the book, like Sagan's recounting of the mass murders associated with the European witch trials. I had no idea so many thousands and thousands of people, mostly women and children, were murdered by Christian authorities all across Europe for centuries. Chapter 7, which shares the same title as the book, was eye-opening and heart-breaking regarding the witch hunts in Europe in the 1400s through the 1700s. Authorities found every way possible to bankrupt the victim and her family before murdering her: all costs of investigations, trial and execution were borne by the accused or her relatives, down to the travel expenses for private detectives to spy on her, expenses for her guards, travel expenses of a messenger sent to fetch a more experienced torturer from another city, all the equipment to torture and kill the accused, etc., was all borne by the accused and her family. The misogynistic elements of the hunts and murders, I was aware of, but not the erotic obsessions of the male-dominated Christian society that couldn’t stop investigating things like the quality and quantity of orgasms in the supposed copulations of defendants with demons or the Devil.

And then there is the chronicle of those murdered by fire - burned alive - just in the single German city of W├╝rzburg in the single year 1598. Here is the list excerpted in Sagan’s book:

The steward of the senate named Gering; old Mrs. Kanzler; the tailor's fat wife; the woman cook of Mr. Mengerdorf; a stranger; a strange woman; Baunach, a senator, the fattest citizen in Wiirtzburg; the old smith of the court; an old woman; a little girl, nine or ten years old; a younger girl, her little sister; the mother of the two little aforemen­tioned girls; Liebler's daughter; Goebel's child, the most beautiful girl in Wiirtzburg; a student who knew many languages; two boys from the Minster, each twelve years old; Stepper's little daughter; the woman who kept the bridge gate; an old woman; the little son of the town council bailiff; the wife of Knertz, the butcher; the infant daughter of Dr. Schultz; a little girl; Schwartz, canon at Hach... The little daughter of Valkenberger was privately executed and burnt."

This is in ONE year, in ONE town. These murders by Christian authorities were happening all over Europe, not just in 1598. And the belief in pseudoscience, coupled with greed, drove it.

It’s not in the book, but it's worth noting that Anna Goeldi, a maid in the small alpine region of Glarus, was the last person in Europe murdered by Christian authorities for witchcraft; she was beheaded in 1782. Goeldi was employed by the family of a rich married politician, who after having an affair with her denounced her for witchcraft claiming she made his daughter spit pins and suffer convulsions. She insisted on her innocence but confessed after being strung up by her thumbs with stones tied to her feet.

Representing Carl Sagan at the March for ScienceSome of my favorite quotes from the book:

For me, it is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring.

Abandoning science is the road back into poverty and backwardness.

The values of science and the values of democracy are concordant, in many cases indistinguishable. Science and democracy began - in their civilized incarnations - in the same time and place, Greece in the seventh and sixth centuries B.C. . . . Science thrives on, indeed requires, the free exchange of ideas; its values are antithetical to secrecy. Science holds to no special vantage points or privileged positions. Both science and democracy encourage unconventional opinions and vigorous debate. Both demand adequate reason, coherent argument, rigorous standards of evidence and honesty.

The tenets of skepticism do not require an advanced degree to master, as most successful used car buyers demonstrate. The whole idea of a democratic application of skepticism is that everyone should have the essential tools to effectively and constructively evaluate claims to knowledge. All science asks is to employ the same levels of skepticism we use in buying a used car or in judging the quality of analgesics or beer from their television commercials.

The book talks about the origins of the Book of Deuteronomy - I had no idea it was magically "found" by Josiah, at the exact time he was wanting those exact same reforms in Judaism! How convenient...

I was also thrilled to learn of Robert Allen Baker. He's cited in the book as being a professor at the University of Kentucky and, of course, I had to look him up. He was a psychologist, professor of psychology emeritus of the University of Kentucky, skeptic, author, and investigator and debunker of ghosts, UFO abductions, lake monsters and other paranormal phenomena. He was born in 1921 in Blackford, in Webster County, Kentucky. He graduated from Hopkinsville High School in 1939. I'm always so thrilled to learn of a great Kentucky scientist or artist.

The book also gives a shout out to James Randi, whose legendary debunking stunts have never been matched - and that's a shame, because we need someone to undertake those very high-profile stunts now.

Carl Sagan died in 1996. I can only imagine what he would have made of the proliferation of anti-vaccine movements among well-off white people in the USA - and the harm these movements have caused to children. Thank goodness we still have Bill Nye and Neil deGrasse Tyson.

If you haven't read it, please do, at least the first seven chapters. Sagan talks way more than alien abductions than you might think necessary, but those myths were super widespread at the time he wrote this book, and the way he debunks them could be used for a whole host of other pseudoscience crap.

In addition, if you aren't following BionerdNess on Facebook, you need to be. It's a page by a friend of mine, a biologist and professor, and she focuses BionerNess on debunking a lot of science myths middle and upper class white people believe and promote. A perfect page for getting material to share on your own social networks - to continue the work of Sagan!

Also see this hilarious pro-vaccine video from Bill Nye (unfortunately, only available on Facebook).

Finally: I haven't written since February. I haven't written more because, quite frankly, I've been busy attending public meetings with elected officials and what not, trying to be more involved in our democracy, trying to stand against the growing nonsense and dangerous practices of the current presidential administration and state legislators across the USA. I hope you are just as busy.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Rebellions are built on hope

Record-setting numbers of people protesting all across the USA on January 31.

Phone lines of senators and congressional representatives jammed every day from people protesting executive orders.

Public meetings with senators and senators and congressional representatives jammed with people angry about their impending loss of health care coverage.

Mass, spontaneous protests at airports across the country.

Millions of dollars donated to the ACLU.

All in two weeks.

I won't say that I've had my faith in humanity restored. But I will say I have hope.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Lost faith in humanity

Back in August, I wrote a blog called I shall not live in fear. It was a reaction the anger and fear of Trump supporters of and regarding immigrants, Muslims, non-White people, crime, loss of the English language, a Black Lives Matter member marrying their daughter, Satanists praying at their next city council meeting, and on and on and on. The level of fear, anger and righteousness was absurd to me then.

It's not only absurd to me now. It's terrifying.

Facts mean nothing to these people. They spew the most vile racist and sexist things while denying whole-heartedly that they are racist or sexist. They are not nearly as economically disadvantaged as they claim, and they've regained economic ground lost under the Bush administration (thanks, Obama, for real!), but their perception is otherwise. They feel under siege, even though they aren't. They feel they are having their quality of life taken away, even though they aren't. They see greater opportunity for people not like them as meaning they themselves are losing out.

How to reach them? Pardon me if I am not feeling a desire to "reach out" or "meet them half way." I hereby confess that I think the term deplorables as quite apt, and I don't like deplorables.

I'm a reason-based gal. I like in-depth statistics and facts and data, even when what such reveals is an inconvenient, even painful truth, even when I have to change my mind as a result. Righteousness repulses me. I, therefore, have a great deal of trouble relating to people who don't do this, who will seek out data from a not-at-all credible source just so they can double down on their beliefs.

How to show empathy for the un-empathetic? How to reason with unreasonable people? How to show kindness to unkind, even hateful people?

And how to restore my long-held faith in humanity, a belief in the idea that, ultimately, after a lot of mess and failure, we are capable of getting it right and living together and embracing the idea that all humans have the right to equal opportunity?

Even being a humanist requires faith. Humanism stresses the potential value and goodness of human beings, emphasizes common human needs, and seeks rational ways of solving human problems. I'm just not so sure about that whole potential value and goodness part anymore.

What now? I will continue to learn Spanish, have coffee with Muslim friends, dance at gay weddings, watch science shows, read books, visit Mexico, sing Louvin Brothers songs ironically, say and believe #BlackLivesMatter, call myself a feminist, listen to international news radio stations, not say the "Pledge of Allegiance", applaud smart, intellectual, professional women, delight in diversity, have the utmost respect for public servants and do lots of other things that, apparently, are woefully un-American in the new USA. I will continue to travel - and hope I'm safe doing so, that Trump hasn't created a far more dangerous world for me and put a target on my back, as someone from the USA.

And in doing all that, even if my faith and hope aren't restored, I'll be having a nice time.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Living under Biblical Law in the USA

When I was 14, my best friend, also 14, got pregnant. Her boyfriend was 19. She and her boyfriend wanted to get married, and her parents were all for it, because their church minister had told them that marriage would be best for their daughter, that it was what Jesus wanted, because otherwise, her baby "would born a bastard." Dropping out of school and getting married and staying home with a baby was the will of Jesus for this young girl, and her parents were all about Jesus. They believed their family should adhere to Biblical law above all else - and that everyone else should too.

A girl in my junior high school wasn't allowed to take gym class, because her parents told her she had to wear skirts and dresses, never shorts or pants, and they felt that girls in gym glass went against Biblical law. They believed their family should adhere to Biblical law above all else - and that everyone else should too.

I've known at least three women who wanted to divorce their abusive, unsupportive husbands, but their own parents and other family and friends discouraged them from doing this, because of the teachings of Jesus and Paul about marriage. They believed their family should adhere to Biblical law above all else - and that everyone else should too.

Growing up in Kentucky, every city meeting was opened with a prayer to Jesus. So were football games. Because my community believed that Biblical law was the law of our land.

I grew up hearing many people, not just ministers, say that feminist movements were against God, that feminists' encouraged women to turn their backs on Jesus and his plan for us, one where we are obedient to our husbands, where we have many children, and where we do NOT work outside of the home. Because my community believed that Biblical law was the law of our land.

I knew girls who did not wear makeup because their parents wouldn't let them. I knew girls that couldn't get their hair cut because their parents wouldn't let them. I knew girls who couldn't spend the night with a friend if that friend had brothers, because their parents wouldn't let them. And in all these cases, the parents believed these prohibitions were prescribed by the Bible. They believed their family should adhere to Biblical law above all else - and that everyone else should too.

In Kentucky, and the rest of the Bible Belt, many people think it's their duty to spread the word of Jesus - and so you are often asked what church you go to, if you have been saved, when you were Baptised, etc. You won't be hard pressed to find Jewish people living in the Bible Belt that have been told by neighbors and co-workers that "Jews killed Jesus."

I didn't like it. In fact, I hated it. Back then, I was trying to be a Christian, I was reading the Bible, but I could not accept a subservient role in life, one where I did not get to choose a career, where I would be called horrible names for choosing not to be a virgin, one where I would be chastised for not having children.

In Hildale, Utah and Colorado City, Arizona, there are more than 7000 people living under a strict interpretation of the Bible and the Book of Mormon, young girls are forced into plural marriages and sex while still children, women are forbidden from doing anything outside the home without their husband's permission, all females are required to wear a particular type of dress and have their hair fixed a certain way, and their church's financial arm owns most of the property in the cities. Men from these communities have been convicted for child sexual abuse - abuse they conducted under the belief that they had the right to do according to Biblical Law.

I bring all this up because I don't hear any of the people that are saying they fear Sharia Law in the USA talking about the forced adherence to religious law that is here already, right now. I've lived under it. Millions still do. No, it's not official on-the-books law, at least in most cases, but it is practiced in many places in the USA, and many people, particularly women and girls, feel they have to adhere to it, for fear of ostracism/social exclusion at best, and bullying, oppression, denial of financial support or even physical abuse at worst.

One of my favorite books is The Handmaid's Tale, by Margaret Atwood. In it, the USA is taken over by an ultra conservative Bible-based movement. They quickly reorganize society along a new militarized, hierarchical, compulsory regime of Old Testament-inspired social and religious fanaticism. Human rights are severely limited and women's rights are completely unrecognized - in fact, almost all women are forbidden to read. So many of my friends read it and while they loved it, they found it utterly unbelievable. I didn't. I didn't find it unbelievable because of what I experienced growing up in Kentucky.

All of you people fearful of Muslims and Sharia - where is your fear of the reality that is Biblical law right here in the USA? Why aren't Pamela Geller or Ron Branstner talking about this forced adherence to religious law that is causing oppression, pain and suffering in our country right now?

Also see:

ACLU, parents of Buddhist student in N. La. sue Christian educators for religious harassment

A child bride in Texas

Christian Homeschoolers Sell Daughter Into Arranged Marriage, Offer Discount Because She’s ‘Damaged’

15 reasons women should be killed, according to the Bible

Thursday, August 4, 2016

I shall not live in fear

I don't live in fear.

Not that I don't have fears. Not that I don't take precautions to better ensure my safety. But I don't live in fear.

Yet, so many people in the USA live in terror - of people that aren't of European descent, of Muslims, of teenagers, even of the government. There's no basis for their level of terror. Over the last 20 years, crime, including violent crime, has plummeted. Even with the incidents of murder committed by extremists claiming to be Muslim, you are still far, far more likely to be killed by heart disease or a car wreck. Or your spouse. People in the USA have never been safer, yet so many don't believe it.

I don't fear Muslims any more than I fear Christians. Maybe it's because I was such an active pro-choice activists in the 1990s, when doctors were being shot and clinics were being bombed by extremist Christian terrorists. Maybe it's because I grew up in the American South, where I heard Christian pastors and their followers say that women should be forced to carry all pregnancies to term, that women who used birth control and had sex before marriage were whores, and that the Bible should be "the law of the land." In other words, I heard Christians around me saying the same things that Christians now say they fear Muslims will try to implement (substitute "sharia" for "Bible"). Or maybe it's because I've been to at least six countries with either majority Muslim populations or a very large percentage of their populations are Muslims, and I have experienced nothing but kindness from those Muslims, a level of kindness and helpfulness the American South prides itself on offering but doesn't always.

I've known people who survived war and genocides and are now working in humanitarian aid and development. They have seen family and friends dragged off by armed groups of their own countrymen. They have seen people killed and mutilated by their own countrymen. They have seen people raped by their own countrymen. Perhaps they themselves have been raped. And these people I've known, that I've worked with, have not lived in fear. They have delighted in their new circumstances and all that's good in their lives now. When something good happens - a marriage, a graduation, a new job, a birth, a reunion, or even more simple things, like dancing and dinner parties or a new tech toy - they revel in it. They savor it. They let themselves be consumed with delight of the moment. It's jaw-dropping and glorious to see and be a part of. They aren't saints, they aren't unbothered by dark memories, but they refuse to let what's bad in the world consume them and their daily lives. I strive to be like them.

Yes, I lock my doors, even when I'm home, and we have alarms on our doors and some of our windows. I look around a LOT before I walk to my car and unlock it. I'm super cautious when alone in a parking garage. I won't get on a subway or light rail car if it's empty or there are only a group of young men on it. I carry my purse over my neck and shoulder. I don't use ATM machines at night. I've taken karate and jujitsu classes. I imagine what I would do if attacked.

I also talk to strangers, and will even get into conversations with such. I make eye contact. I know all of my neighbors. I take mass transit. I walk around my neighborhood by myself. I go out at night. I wear whatever I want. I go to the movies or events by myself. I use social media. I smile and laugh in public. I travel. I travel to countries with millions and millions of Muslims. I think about and plan for the future, a future full of possibilities.

I live. I laugh. And I choose not to live in fear.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016


In 2000, Ronald Gay entered a gay bar in Roanoke, Virginia and opened fire on the patrons, killing Danny Overstreet, 43 years old, and severely injuring six others. The shooter said he was angry over what his name now meant and was upset that three of his sons had changed their surname. He said God told him to find and kill lesbians and gay men, and described himself as a "Christian Soldier working for my Lord." Gay testified in court that "he wished he could have killed more fags," before several of the shooting victims as well as Danny Overstreet's family and friends.

In 2015, an ultra-Orthodox Jewish man recently released from prison after serving 10 years for stabbing participants in the annual Gay Pride Parade in Jerusalem in 2005 struck again at the same parade, stabbing six marchers. Here's a story from that time.

This year, someone who may have been a radical Muslim or may have been gay and unable to reconcile his homosexuality with his religion, killed 49 people at a gay club in Orlando.

People who use religion to justify murder are, in a word, terrifying. And it's profoundly sad that it was so easy to find examples of someone that is Christian, someone that is Jewish and someone that is Muslim killing gay people in the name of their God. It's even easier to find lots of examples of religious people saying that their religion says gay people are worthy of derision and death.

I am an atheist, but I'm also a humanist. I want to live a life that affirms the human ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity. I believe that ethics and compassion make our lives understandable and meaningful. That means I believe, among many things, that LGBTIQ people should have the same rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and the same access to safety, as any other human being, anywhere on Earth. It means that I am appalled at the idea of LGBTIQ people being harmed because of their sexual orientation, and will never tolerate such actions.

I also have a really pronounced sense of empathy, and I tend to cry when I see inhumanity. So, regarding Orlando, I've cried a lot. But I've also been heartened at the outpouring of love and support from so many different people.

But I am oh-so-unsettled by religious justifications for this hate of LGBTIQ people. It's disgusting. And seeing so many Christians condemn Islam because of this shooting - but not Christianity for its long history of violence, including violence aimed at health clinics and the workers at such - disgusts me just as much.

So, how will I respond to all this, other than writing this blog? By:
  • Posting to my social meeting accounts and making sure all of my friends and colleagues know the facts of this shooting, countering hearsay and rumors, knowing where they can help with cash donations to those affected by the Orlando shooting, and knowing about local events to condemn this act of violence and the religious justifications for it.
  • Connecting all of my local gay friends to a newly-formed online community for LGBTIQ in our small town and surrounding small towns.
  • Responding to and countering connections on social media that espouse hate or religious justifications for marginalizing LGBTIQ people.
  • Read the Second Edition of Psychological First Aid Field Operations Guide and look for some way to get my mental health first aid certification renewed, as well as getting my CPR and First Aid certification renewed.
  • I will write my US Senators, my US Congressional representative and my state representatives and demand gun control - it's time to make getting and owning a gun the same as getting and owning a car, at the very least, and getting rid of any access to guns that can kill so many in 60 seconds.
If you have been affected by the Orlando shooting - or any traumatic event, no matter how far away - and it's affected your sleep, your ability to function, your ability to get up in the morning, your feeling of safety, anything, please call 1-800-985-5990 - it's the 24/7 @SAMHSAgov hotline, a federal program for anyone in the U.S./territories in distress from disasters. They also have a service via SMS (text TalkWithUs to 66746).

Peace be with you.