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


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.