Home

The Deal I’m Not Smelling

Comments Off on The Deal I’m Not Smelling

Department Of Why I’m Typing With (Mostly) One Hand

In answer to the question (which no one is asking), Are those mandoline blades as sharp as they say?  [1]

 

 

fingers

 

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of Any Questions, Class?

I’ve been seeing this quote requoted quite a lot, which leads me to believe that there is a need for clarification in the matter it addresses.  Apparently, there are people who are confused as to the responsibility of journalists to give “equal” ___   (time/weight/consideration) to “both sides” of an argument/issue/statement.  For example, if 98 out of 100 climate scientists say they have evidence showing that human activities are causing global warming, and the other two say it is uncertain whether or not human activity is causing global warming, interviewing one scientist “from each side of the debate” is not proportional or “fair and balanced” reporting on the issue.

This quote, a pithy yet profound guideline from a journalism teacher, says it best:

 

journalism101

 

*   *   *

Department Of Life Imitating Art

I await the juicy revelations that are sure to come from the case of the recently arrested Russian spy, Marina Butina – who seems to be a real live red sparrow, nesting right here in the US of A. Butina is allegedly a “… covert agent (who) pursued a brazen effort to infiltrate conservative circles and influence powerful Republicans while she secretly was in contact with Russian intelligence operatives.”  Among other charges, Butina is accused of having traded – surprise! – sex for favors, which included having access to an

“…’extensive network’ of influential Americans through ‘US Person 1,’ widely believed to be GOP strategist Paul Erickson….
The DOJ added that on at least one occasion, “Butina offered an individual other than US Person 1 sex in exchange for a position within a special interest organization.”
(Business Insider, 7-18-18)

Pictures have surfaced of Butina attending that most odious of conservative religious/political US Constitution mindfucks, the National Prayer Breakfast.  It will be interesting – if not totally predictable – when her other sex-for-favor contacts turn out to be, like Erickson, the prayer breakfast moralizer types; i.e., Republicans who are also active in ultraconservative religious causes.

 

 

 

 

I once read a seemingly sincere question in an advice column about the phenomenon:  Why is it that, for example, the politician who spouts virulent anti-gay rhetoric will be the one later caught with a rent boy?  The columnist gave an articulate psychological explanation about sublimation, cognitive dissonance and denial….an explanation which I forgot a week or so after reading it.

But it seems obvious to me that many of humanity’s most complex and seemingly contradictory behavioral and rhetorical conundrums can be explained in terms a nine year old can appreciate – namely, fart analogies:

“He who smelt it, dealt it.”

 

 

spocklogic

 

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of Stop Denigrating (Intentionally Or Otherwise) Things
About Which You Are Obviously Ignorant

Sub Department Of Things That Make Me Pull Over To The Side Of The Road While Listening To A Podcast And Take Angry/Frustrated Notes

I referred to the July 23  Fresh Air podcast, which featured an interview with writer Michael Arceneaux promoting his new book, a collection of essays titled, I Can’t Date Jesus: Love, Sex, Family, Race, and Other Reasons I’ve Put My Faith in Beyoncé.  [2]

Arceneaux is, of course, his own expert when it comes to his experiences growing up “black, gay, and Catholic in Texas.” I’ve no beef with that,  [3]  and am likely to read his book.  But when FA host  Terry Gross ask Arceneaux, who claims to have left the church, about what he believes now with regards to religion, his response revealed an annoying lack of knowledge about a designation he rejects:

Gross: So you write that…you struggle with what it is that you do believe in, but you know you’re not an atheist. Why – if you’ve given up basically on your religion, what’s the difference between that and being an atheist?

Arceneaux: …But I wouldn’t call myself an atheist because I do believe in something….
I don’t want to call myself an atheist though. I think my mom would hit me with a Bible. But, yeah, I believe in something. I’m still wrestling with that, Terry Gross.

 

facepalm

 

 

Oh. Dear.

Mr.  Arceneaux, I’d say you’re definitely not an atheist.  Because if you were, you’d likely be smart enough – i.e., a rational enough thinker –  not to say that you don’t call yourself an atheist because you “still believe in something,” which implies that (you think) atheists believe in nothing.

Look, it is okay to reject any other person’s designation of your beliefs, but make sure you understand the definition before you do so. Many of us who are religion-free call ourselves Humanists and/or Skeptics and/or Freethinkers and/or Brights, and a variety of other positive identification terms. Some of us do call ourselves atheists, or will accept being so labeled by religious people, even as we may have objections to the term. 

The biggest objection in the term, for moiself, is that it supplies very little information. By definition, an atheist is simply an a-theist – that is, someone without theism, which is a belief in gods/deities/a “supreme being.”  Thus, the term atheist defines a person in terms of what they are not, and says nothing about what they are.

A seemingly minor point, in some people’s eyes,  [4] although I’d argue that this is a very crucial distinction, one worthy of a far greater exposition than will – and has been  – found in this blog. 

 

 

 

lions and tigersjpg

Skeptics, Freethinkers and Brights, oh my!

 

 

 

 

We who are religion-free hold so many viewpoints and opinions – we don’t “believe in nothing.” I have diametrically opposed political opinions, musical tastes, etc., than other “atheists” I’ve met. Our commonality is that our worldviews are (almost always  [5] ) free from supernatural and mystical elements.  We do not believe that the natural world is the way it is because of an alleged supernatural world.

There are many things other people put great faith in which I don’t believe in – astrology, homeopathy, the trickle-down theory, “one size fits all” as an accurate clothing label – and I don’t want to be labeled by those rejections.   If you are a religious believer, then you are a theist, and you probably don’t want your beliefs framed in reference to mine, or even to be so narrowly labeled (you’d likely want to claim a more specific form of theism, such as Lutheran or Baptist or Orthodox Jew or…). Thus, I’m not going to call you an afreethinker or an –ahumanist.

 

 

hellowerethehendersons

 

 

“In fact, “atheism” is a term that should not even exist. No one ever needs to identify himself as a “non-astrologer” or a “non-alchemist.” We do not have words for people who doubt that Elvis is still alive or that aliens have traversed the galaxy only to molest ranchers and their cattle. Atheism is nothing more than the noises reasonable people make in the presence of unjustified religious beliefs.”

( Sam Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation )

 

*   *   *

 

 

 

May you always remember, when given conflicting actual or metaphorical forecasts, to check for yourself – i.e., look out the !#$%?! window;
May you understand the labels you reject, and embrace;
May you trust that the blades are, indeed, sharp;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

 

 

 

 

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

 

*   *   *

 

 

[1] The pain of the cut(s) pale to the pain of realizing moiself’s own stupidity in obtaining them.

[2] Title of the year, or what?

[3] Although, being a plant-eating pescetarian, I’ve no beef with…well…anyone.

[4] And if you’re one of those people, open your eyes a bit wider, please.

[5] Thus, for example, people who reject traditional religions’ theologies but believe that their astrological signs are accurate depictions of reality, or who believe in crystal healing – while these folks may technically be atheists, they are definitely Supernaturalists.

The Friend I’m Not Praying For

2 Comments

“If you talked into your hair dryer and said you were communicating with someone in outer space, they’d put you away.  But take away the hair dryer, and you’re praying.”
Sam Harris

prayer

I seeing miss my sweet, witty, intelligent, compassionate, bawdy, hugs & sloppy kisses friend, HUL.  She gets back here (she used to live in Oregon) to visit when she can, and although it seems like there’s no distance between us when we phone or email or text, she lives 1300 miles away.  And she is having surgery today.  I will be thinking of her, and talking to her after the surgery as I’ve talked to her before and after her cancer diagnosis, commiserating about the shitty situation and brainstorming treatment options, colorfully cursing the brusque and clueless medical personnel she’s encountered and lavishly praising the smart, kind and competent ones.

I will not be praying for HUL. Nor will I be

* burning special incense for her
* anointing her head with oil
* finding a faith healer to perform a laying on of hands
* doing a Wiccan or Tibetan healing chant
* performing a Haipule [1]or smudging ceremony [2]
* sacrificing a child
* using crystals to balance her energy
* casting a voodoo healing spell
* sending her to a Hakim (traditional Muslim healer) for Unani medicine [3]

Or singing her favorite soccer team’s fight song….or performing any of the rituals many human beings once somehow (and, sadly, still) thought might cause the gods/spirits/cosmic energies to look upon them with favor and cure their maladies.

What the heck. I could pick one of those things, or cover the bases and do ’em all, as they have an equal likelihood of affecting the outcome of HUL’s surgery and subsequent prognosis.

HUL, righteously religion-free babe that she is, is not asking me, or anyone, to pray for her.

Not even moi?

Not even moi?

Her first surgery will be done in a Catholic-run hospital. HUL told me the only activity resembling praying that she might do is to beseech the friend who’s picking her up after surgery to refrain from vandalizing crucifixes and the like, should said friend spot any Catholibilia [4] in HUL’s room.

HUL will not be posting the news of her illness and surgery on any social media sites.  She wants to control access to this information and maintain a modicum of privacy.  She also wants to avoid the jaw-clenching, energy-sucking vibes produced by People Who Mean Well ® and who express their sentiments, even to those of us whom they know are religion-free, via the hackneyed expression [5] ,  I’ll be praying for you.

praying

She and I – and just about every atheist-agnostic-Bright-humanist-skeptic-freethinker on the planet – have commiserated over this phenomenon.  We realize the expression is a kneejerk, cultural/social, nicety response, and that not everyone who says “I’ll pray for you” literally intends to do so.  It’s similar to the way “How are you?” is used as a greeting – as a substitute or equivalent for Hi or Good morning.   If you take that “How are you?” query/greeting at face value and actually talk about how you are,  [6] you may be surprised by the WTF expression from the one who has greeted you and who now acts like they want to leave skidmarks as they flee from your discourse.

When it comes to being on the receiving end of I will be/I am praying for you, Those Of  Us Who Think About Such Things mostly grin and bear it, with various degrees of enthusiasm and anemia.  Here’s what we’re likely to say (even as this is what we’re likely thinking):

Well-Meaning But Ignorant Person:  “I am so sorry to hear about your upcoming hammertoe surgery! I’ll pray for you.”

Us: “Oh, okay. Thanks for thinking of me.” (You’re going to pray…uh…yeah, knock yourself out…but…really…WHY? Am I supposed to thank you for doing…well, nothing…when what I could use is a casserole, or for someone to mow my lawn while my foot is in a cast?)

I know, I know, IKNOWIKNOWIKNOWIKNOW.  People “mean well” (I’m trying to remember that great Lily Tomlin quote, something about thank goodness for kids, they never mean well).  But those of us who are fond of reality don’t just shelve it in times of crisis.  We we know about the efficacy [7] and therefore futility of prayer, to any one’s deities, for anything, and our bafflement at the announcement of the practice is often hard to disguise.

answered prayer

Skeptics more articulate than moiself have pointed out that while many religious people claim to truly believe that prayer can cure a variety of illnesses and injuries, they only pray for maladies that are generally self-limiting (and thus, they can attribute the cure to miraculous intervention).

I’ve never heard of religious believers petitioning their god to cause the boy with 3rd degree burns to grow new skin overnight (or even over the course of a few months), although I have heard them pray that the boy’s skin grafts will take.

An illness that gets better over time (and most do), a mood that improves, believers can and often do attribute these events to a “miracle” or divine intervention.  But hard physical evidence – the burnt, necrotizing flesh, the amputee’s stump– is a slap in the face to the “power” of prayer.

My theory is that deep down inside, even the most fundy believers have reality check neurons (besieged, but not extinct), which occasionally whisper to them, “Now, let’s not get carried away, you know this stuff is just mumbo jumbo.”

How else to explain the fact that, while believers fervently and publicly ask their god to heal the spirit and speed the recovery of the Iraqi war veteran whose leg was blown off by an IED, or of the diabetic who lost a foot to gangrene, they do not pray for their god to regenerate these sufferers’ limbs. In the case of Christian believers, their scriptures are filled with stories of “miraculous” events and healings performed by their god, including restoration of sight to the blind and movement to a paralytic, instantaneous curing of leprosy and healing of a soldier’s amputated ear and so on. Why should the production of new skin or a new leg be so difficult for an omniscient, omnipotent, responsive-to-the-heartfelt-petitions-of-his-flock deity?   Especially considering the fact that several species of our fellow animal inhabitants of our planet, including skinks, sea stars, conchs, and crayfish, can regenerate amputated appendages, and (presumably) do this without prayer.

"Oh great and merciful Poseidon, We beseech thee on behalf of our orange sister, that she be made whole again!"

“Oh great and merciful Poseidon, We beseech thee on behalf of our orange sister, that she be made whole again!”

Check out this site, for a more entertaining (and thought-provoking) examination of…well…of why this question is – or should be, to any sentient being – so important:  Why Won’t God Heal Amputees.

I get it; all of us who smite even the idea of prayer get it:  in times of adversity it’s often hard to know what to do or say.  Bad news makes everyone uncomfortable. You hear about someone’s misfortune, you care, you want to do something…but, think about it.  That “something” you do, if it’s praying (or just saying that you will pray), is more about making you feel better than about what prayer might actually accomplish.  Praying may provide you with the comforting illusion of having done something, but in fact you’ve done Absolutely. Nothing. Of. Substance.

If you really care, do something. Praying, or the secular version –  “holding a good thought for you” – doesn’t count.  Talk (and thought) is cheap; actions speak louder than – oh, don’t make me type it.

getwell

When HUL told me about her disease we cried and laughed and raged and cried and laughed some more. Here is what I will do for you, I told her, if you will let me, and if you need me to.[8] The list is a work in progress, based in part upon what other kind friends, neighbors and co-workers have done for me in times of need.  Like all such lists, it will and should be modified to fit the situation.

* Be there before, during and after surgery [9]
* Bring you healthful meals

"Get well soon, or more spam casseroles will be delivered to your  refrigerator."

“Get well soon, or more spam casseroles will be delivered to your  refrigerator.”

* Clean your house, hold your hand, feed your cats (and scoop their litterboxes)
* Donate to reputable, efficacious [10] cancer research funds
* Send you links to really bad jokes and visual puns and baby sloth videos
* Rent you some DVDs for a Daniel Day Lewis film festival [11]
* Encourage you to document what you are going through…

About that last one.  Although not a professional author, HUL is a pithy, articulate and entertaining writer, and I’ve urged her to record not only the logistics of her disease but her attitudes and reactions to it as well.  However, I have promised to refrain from referring to her dealing with cancer as if she’s on some kind of spiritual excursion.

I just can’t help it: when I heard phrases like, “Tell us what you’ve learned from your journey with pancreatic cancer,” it makes me want to kick Oprah in the ovaries.

 *   *   *

And Now For Something Completely Different

 Department of Making It All Better

When I serve a dish containing Brussels sprouts – to anyone, but mostly to MH and moiself – I also serve champagne.

sprouts

*   *   *

About Last Week’s Shirt

Receiving slightly less attention than the Rosetta mission’s landing of a probe on a comet was the PR meteor storm created by one of the project scientists.  This scientist dude chose “the most important day in spaceflight since Curiosity landed on Mars” – a day when he was slated to be speaking about the project on a worldwide live-stream – to wear a tacky bowling shirt covered in comic book-style images of half-naked women.

REALLY

Same dude also went on to describe the difficulty of the Rosetta mission: “She’s sexy, but I never said she was easy.”

facepalm

Read this, for one of the more coherent takes on this brouhaha, including the dude’s [12] apology, and the (surprise!) internet-troll backlash aimed at those people [13] who called out the dude on his astounding inappropriateness.

“If you think this is just a bunch of prudes, you’re wrong. It’s not about the prurience. It’s about the atmosphere of denigration….. If you think this isn’t a big deal, well, by itself, it’s not a huge one. But it’s not by itself, is it? This event didn’t happen in a vacuum. It comes when there is still a tremendously leaky pipeline for women from undergraduate science classes to professional scientist. It comes when having a female name on a paper makes it less likely to get published, and cited less. It comes when there is still not even close to parity in hiring and retaining women in the sciences.”
 (Phil Plait, Astronomer and “science evangelist,” from his Bad Astronomy blog)

Is that your comet probe or are you just excited to see me?

Is that your comet probe or are you just excited to see me?

*   *   *

May your choice of bowling shirts be workplace-appropriate and face-palm-worthy-free, may well-meaning folks have no reason to pray for your recovery, may your cruciferous vegetables always be champagne-escorted, and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

 

 

[1] A Hawaiian healing ritual.

[2] A Native American practice involving cleansing a person with the smoke of sacred plants.

[3] The use of food and herbs to reestablish balance, based on a theory of wet/dry, hot/cold humors in the body.

[4] Yeah, I made that word up, but you know what I mean: crucifixes, rosaries, framed pictures of Jesus and saints and John F. Kennedy….

[5] and seemingly obligatory Facebook response to bad news.

[6] Like many a bewildered newcomer to American culture has done, and discovered that the Howareyou supplicant  did not really want to hear about your latest triumphs and travails. Or, as one European traveler put it, “Why do Americans ask how you are when they don’t want to know? Why don’t they just say, ‘Hello’?”

[7] That would be: zero.

[8] Make sure your help is practical and actually wanted, and not yet another task for the afflicted to manage.

[9] HUL has friends lined up to help, and graciously deflected that offer…although she’s made me promise to fly out for her “Yay, I’m all better!” or “I need more treatment, so kiss my hair goodbye!” party – whichever one she throws.

[10] Check out any and all charities to make sure they are legitimate and use funds wisely (Charity Navigator and Givewell are just two of the organizations that provide such evaluations), and fuck the Susan Komen industry ’cause festooning your body with plastic pink crap made in China does not cure breast cancer.

[11] Do not underestimate the power of watching your favorite movies featuring your favorite, fine-looking actors – ’twas repeated showings of Last of the Mohicans, not the antibiotics, that cured my pneumonia, I truly believe, brothers and sisters (somebody say, Amen!).

[12] Nah, I won’t use his name. I don’t think he was evil or even (consciously) misogynistic, just incredibly puerile.

[13] Every sentient being with an IQ larger than their hat size and their heads out of the sand (and not up their asses) – which I assume is an accurate description for y’all.

The I’m Erotic Cattle Abduction Scene I’m Not Writing

1 Comment

Some authors should not go there

Sex.  As in, writing a sex scene. I find myself either yawning or cringing – sometimes both [1] – when I read them.  Rarely have I found a fictional account of a sexual encounter to be anything other than mildly ludicrous at best, and wonder, is this claptrap supposed to be erotic?

No entendre, double or otherwise, intended with the use of the word claptrap.  Although it would make a good title for a murder mystery novel.

Claptrap :  While on vacation in New York City, Kenyan homicide detective Yawanna Ubangi gets drawn into the investigation of an apparent female serial killer, a Femme Fatale whose M.O. involves weakening her lovers through intentional gonorrhea infections….

Hot damn, I may be on to something. I shall have to restrain myself, until I’m at least done with the first draft of the next Quinn book.

Once again, I digress.  Back to bad sex.

Case in point, the book I am currently reading.  I like the plot and most of the characters; I want to like the book in toto, but the author is making it difficult for me to do so.  There is something off-putting about the prose style I can’t quite put my finger on, and then, there are the intermittent sex scenes between the protagonist and her husband that make me never to want to put a finger on anything, ever again.  Not only are the sexual encounters awkwardly written IMHO, they are so…perfunctory, mechanical, and terse .[2]   I find myself wondering, in the most basic, high school Literature Evaluation sense, why are these scenes in the book in the first place?  What plot point or character reference do they serve to illustrate or advance?  Did the author feel obligated to include a minimum amount of whoopee, or was it an editor’s misguided marketing strategy (“There’s no sex in this book, FFS!”) ?

BADSEXjpg

*   *   *

Yet another reason not to follow a link on Facebook and end up wasting far too much time blowing steam about some hypercritical misanthrope

The link to a Huffington Post opinion piece was posted by friend RN, with the question, “You know, this is how A__ (RN’s partner) and I roll, too.  Are we extremists?”

After reading the article I had to wonder if RN had read it all the way through, for although I know that RN & A___ have generous spirits and kind hearts and have opened their home to rescue dogs, I can’t imagine they are anything like the extremely judgmental lady dick who wrote An Open Letter to the Person Who Left This Sweet Dog at the Kill Shelter.

The article is a hostile, self-congratulatory screed by a self-described “blogger, Dog Lover,” who takes to task – and threatens the safety of – the person who surrender an elderly dog with multiple health issues to a “kill” shelter.

“Warning – it’s not easy to read,” RN wrote re the article, referring to the details of the poor dog’s plight, I assumed.  Assumption #2: I anticipated my reaction would be similar to RN’s, until I followed the link and read the article…and felt compelled to reply:

Uh, it’s not easy to read because the author is a vile, judgmental, sanctimonious narcissist, who in truth knows little to nothing about the situations that may have led to a family surrendering their dog. 

My daughter and I volunteered for a no-kill animal organization [3]  and we met some of those people. “Pet surrenders” increased dramatically with the downturn of the economy, and for every jerk who turned in a pet that they just didn’t want anymore there were two grieving families, heartbroken over the fact that they had lost their jobs and their homes and/or leases (yes, our organization researched these surrenders and checked references), had no friends or family to take their beloved pet and had to choose between buy their own diabetes medication or their son’s anti-seizure drugs…. 

What little information is on an animal surrender intake sheet does not tell the whole story, and people are often reluctant and embarrassed to reveal their private miseries. That self-congratulating dog rescuer may have a heart for animals but I wish s/he’d extend the same compassion toward his fellow bipeds.

I could have gone on, could have mentioned the heartbreak of seeing the elderly pets “surrendered” by their elderly, loving owners who had fought for years to be able to stay in their own homes but due to illness/disability/dementia were entering nursing homes and had exhausted every resource to find a home for their beloved animal companions – stories way too complicated to fit on an intake form…. And no-kill shelters almost always have a waiting list.  A very long waiting list.  To assume that any person who “surrenders” an animal does so voluntarily and cavalierly frosts my butt.

And so, Blogger-dog-lover, this asshat’s for you:

AHat

*   *   *

It was time to send another care package to K, up at UPS.  I gathered a motley assortment of silly items ® and went to a certain store to get some cheap junk food inexpensive nutritious snacks to fill out the box. I also got him one of those paper fold out turkey centerpieces (one dollar, such a deal!), and wrote my suggested instructions on it: K should wait until his housemates are out, assemble the hideous thing tasteful decoration and place it atop the dining table. Once its presence has been noticed he should deny all knowledge of how it got there, and suggest that they have been the victims of yet another drive-by centerpiecing.

TURKEY

 Anyway….

I placed my items on the checkout counter conveyor belt along with my own bag, and for some reason flashed back to the first time I’d brought my reusable bag to the store (the name of which rhymes with Collar Free):  The clerk seemed to be in a hurry, and started shoving my items into a plastic bag seemingly before they’d touched the conveyor belt.  “Oh, wait please.” I waved my cloth bag while stating the obvious. “I brought my own bag.” The clerk’s eyes grew wide with concern as she transferred my items from the store’s bag to mine.  “I’m sorry,” she said, in the measured, you may want to sit down for this tone usually reserved for telling someone their favorite auntie has died, “But I can’t give you a discount for using your own bag. Store policy; it’s still a dollar, for everything.”

Uh, yeah, that’s fine. That’s not why I bring my own shopping bag, to get five cents off my total.  I didn’t even think of the bag rebate until you called it to my attention…but, now that you mention it, the injustice is sinking in and I am outraged, I am appalled, utterly appalled. GODDAMMIT I WANT MY NICKLE REFUND!  I AM NOT LEAVING THIS STORE UNTIL I GET MY NICKLE BACK OR YOU GIVE ME ONE OF YOUR PLASTIC BAGS.

REUSALE

It has rained several times this week, after last week’s glorious burst of late summer sun and high temperatures. The first rainstorm of the season – I love the way it smells.  For some people, the return of the rain is enervating, but I find it energizing.  The harbinger of autumn, my favorite season. Bring it on.

*   *   *

SOAPBOX

One of my favorite comics from one of my favorite comic strips, Bizarro, shows two couples, beverage tumblers in hand, meeting at an outdoor party.  The husband of one of the couples extends his toward the other couple and says, “Hello, we’re the Hendersons. You must be the non-Hendersons.”

I can't afford whatever the fee would be to borrow a Bizarro comic, so use your imagination here.

I can’t afford whatever the fee would be to borrow a Bizarro comic, so use your imagination.

This shall make sense; bear with me.

The first rain of the season reminded me of other firsts.  Three of We (MH, Belle and I) are attending the FFRF’s [4] annual convention later this month.  This will be Belle’s first, Mark’s third and my fourth FFRF convention.  I’ve been fondly recalling one of the more thought-provoking moments at my first convention, which occurred during the convention’s customary non-prayer breakfast [5] .  The charming elderly gentleman seated next to me at breakfast outed himself as a “non-atheist.”  He said that although his wife was a “long-time atheist” he was a theist, and that he found it educational, intriguing and humbling to be in the minority, as he was likely one of the few non-atheists in the room.  Isn’t it funny, I replied, that you’re sitting next to another minority member…only in that I do not call myself an atheist.

I think words are incredibly important; they are what we humans, a non-telepathic species, use to communicate ideas.  And I can get picky about labels. Although some might find it amusing if not presumptuous for a freethinker to even attempt to persuade other freethinkers to think differently, I don’t like the atheist label and wish those who claim the word would claim…something else, instead.

There are several reasons for my dislike of the term.  For one, I find it to be a misnomer.  Also, I think Freethinkers, Humanists, Brights, Skeptics and others who accept and even embrace the A-label are making a semantic as well as a strategic/public relations mistake.

One of the best pieces of parenting advice MH and I received was that when it came to discipline we would need to “choose our battles” wisely.  We found that to be true; there are things not worth the fuss, and others that are so worth fighting for.  I think the battle to claim or rehabilitate the word atheist is futile; it has too many negative connotations and associations.  Of course, those associations were and are concocted and perpetuated by the religious and are largely and historically inaccurate, but since when has acknowledging that fact corrected a firmly entrenched misperception?  [6]

Personally, I’ve no “fear” of being called an atheist.  To the contrary, being thusly labeled has provided many an Entertaining Educational Moment, when I’ve reminded the person who used the word that we’re all atheists vis-à-vis our stance on other gods/religions, and that it is only relatively recently that “atheism” has come to mean a lack of belief in any gods (historically, an atheist was someone who didn’t believe in the god you believed in, and so Jews, Christians, Buddhists, Pagans, Moslems and Hindus have all been referred to, by those outside their respective religions, as atheists).

But that Educational Moment, no matter how entertaining, ultimately misses the point.  For if we are all Something in relation to Something Else, then Something has no specific meaning.  I find the Something that is atheism to be imprecise, and so I correct someone who applies that term to me, just as I would correct a mispronunciation of my name or misstatement of my height. [7]

The religious generally try to understand or dismiss atheism as just another (“false”) religion. That’s silly, of course, but that’s how they, in their minds, can handle it. One reason they get away with this is that self-labeled atheists involuntarily abet such faulty reasoning by allowing themselves to be defined in religious terms by religious people.  But atheism isn’t a religion, a philosophy, or even a world view. It’s not even an ism.

In fact, “atheism” is a term that should not even exist. No one ever needs to identify himself as a “non-astrologer” or a “non-alchemist.” We do not have words for people who doubt that Elvis is still alive or that aliens have traversed the galaxy only to molest ranchers and their cattle. Atheism is nothing more than the noises reasonable people make in the presence of unjustified religious beliefs.

Sam Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation

"I believe, Elsie, I believe!"

“I believe, Elsie, I believe!”

I am not religious, and thus find it improper and even rude to be defined in terms of what I do not do, believe, or practice.  I am not a negation of something; like anyone else, I want to be defined positively, on my own terms, not in terms of my relation to someone or something else.  When it comes to politics, I’m an Independent, not an anti-Democrat, un-Republican, de-Green Party or dis-Libertarian.  I’m not an a-astrologist, a-New-Ager or a-theist; I am a Freethinker, a Humanist, a Skeptic, a Bright.

Let’s say I’m visiting my Floridian, Republican, Lutheran, tennis-loving, Gucci satchel-toting mother-in-law, Gladys. [8]  And let’s say Gladys gives the following description of me to her neighbor, Jethro:  “Her name is not Gladys, she’s not from Florida, she’s an a-Republican and an a-Lutheran, she’s not a tennis player or an Italian purse carrier, and she’s not my daughter.”

While technically correct, that description provides no pertinent information about me.  Jethro knows nothing of what I am, only a little bit of what, in relation to Gladys, I am not.

Another reason I don’t like the term atheist is that it elevates theism to the #1 position of the many things in whose existence or veracity I don’t believe.  It gives the false assumption that there is something out there (a supernatural world and/or deities) to deny. Yes, I do not believe in the existence of deities, but I also don’t believe in demons or ghosts or fairy godmothers or homeopathy or astrology or the trickle-down theory, either.

Most religious folk think they know what an atheist is, does and/or believes, but, in my humble opinion and experience, even the most academically challenged Fundamentalists can be intrigued by the unfamiliar.  Call yourself an atheist (or allow them to do so) and in their eyes, you’re pegged – beginning/end of discussion.   Call yourself a Freethinker, a Bright, a Skeptic, and you’ve set their ears (and sometimes…gasp…even their minds) atwitching.  (“Freethinker?  What exactly do you mean by that?”).

As a Bright, I hold a naturalistic worldview, free of supernatural and mystical elements.  As a Freethinker, I hold that opinions or beliefs of reality should be based on science, logic and reason, independent of religion, authority, “tradition” or dogmas. As a Skeptic, I take a provisional approach to all fantastic declarations, and support the application of science and reason to test the validity of any and all claims. As a Humanist, I hold a progressive philosophy of life that bases my values and actions on a naturalistic worldview and affirms my ability and responsibility to lead an ethical life that aspires to the greater good of humanity.  And yes, if you are a religious believer you may call me an atheist (but be prepared for me to point out that you’re the one who’s the theist, not me, a- or otherwise).

Bright, Freethinker, Skeptic, Humanist, Happy Heathen, Apostate, Atheist, Heretic – I will embrace or tolerate any of those terms.  Although my title of choice would be “T’Saywhat, Galactic Sovereign of the Terran System.”

ZSAQUEEN

Queen T’Saywhat’s philosophy is to protect and enhance the earth, to enjoy life in the here and cultivate moral excellence, maturity and common human decency.  She would exercise her Galactic monarchical responsibility by requiring all humans to meditate upon the truths illustrated herein:

Get that Captain a charcoal seat cushion, and let the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!


[1] Which I am able to do thanks to years of yoga practice.

[2] Not that I’m complaining about a poorly written scene not dragging on and on and on….

[3] over five years with C.A.T. Cat Adoption Team

[4] The Freedom From Religion Foundation’s objective is to promote the constitutional principle of separation of state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to non-theism.

[5] Which begins with a “moment of bedlam” instead of a moment of silence.  Such fun before 9 am is illegal in most Islamsit countries. You really gotta be there.

[6] Greater and more articulate minds than mine have argued for dropping the A-label – most notably author and neurobiologist Sam Harris at the Atheist Alliance Conference, for which he was burned at the rhetorical stake, so to speak.  Hmm, are there Atheist Fundies?

[7] I am taller than you think.  I am taller than I think…in my dreams.

[8] Neither her real name nor her taste in handbags.