Posts Tagged 'Politics'

Bad News For Brazilian “Ateus”

The Brazilian flag reads “ordem e progresso” – order and progress. Yet, it looks like the land of samba and sugar cane still has plenty of progress left to make.

You may recall a study that came out awhile ago in which it was found that 48% of all Americans would vote against any candidate for any political office who was revealed to be an atheist. Many candidates are smeared to look like atheists, or in some cases, smeared for simply attending an event run by atheists. But compared to Brazil, this is the land of milk and honey for those who don’t believe. According to a similar survey conducted there that I recently uncovered, only 13% of Brazilians would vote for an atheist candidate. And to top it off, the nation’s most recognized landmark is a giant statue of Jesus. Ouch.

However, there is a glimmer of hope. Brazilian nonbelievers have been making their presence felt on the internet and elsewhere in the public sphere. One Brazilian youtube user, aside from confirming the belief that all Brazilian girls are hot, has alot to say about religion and why she is an ateu – an atheist – and she’s even taken the trouble to speak English in all her clips. The best thing atheists and secularists can do, whether in the US, Brazil, or elsewhere, is to increase our visibility. Most people have their public perceptions of atheists shaped by the least atheistic people out there, and by standing up we can show more reasonable people that we aren’t the monsters we’re made out to be. And if the situation improves in Brazil, some countries even worse for atheists than it is might learn by its example.

Hindu Exorcism

jindalBobby Jindal, the supposed right-wing equivalent to Obama, takes his religion a bit more seriously than his Democratic counterpart. To wit: he’s an exorcist.

It was the mid nineties, and young Bobby (real name: Piyush) was still in college. He was having a prayer session with a friend, whose name has since been vigorously withheld and today can only be reprinted in quotes: “Susan”. One thing led to another, and soon “Susan” was making the room smell like sulfur and doing all those irritating things girls generally do when possessed by the devil. Bobby did what any god-fearing Indian American would do: round up a group of friends and slam a Bible in her face. Nevertheless, “Susan” attempted an escape:

She suddenly leapt up and ran for the door, despite the many hands holding her down. This burst of action served to revive the tired group of students and they soon had her restrained once again, this time half kneeling and half standing.

This was of course due to the fact that she was possessed by Satan and not because a fanatical group of students were holding her against her will. But Bobby and company didn’t let up, they held the bible to her face some more, then made her read passages from the book in order to prove her loyalty. Ironically, nearby fraternities used similar initiation procedures too.

In the end, Satan did leave “Susan”. Either that, or she blacked out during three hours of what could under nonreligious circumstances be described as “assault” or “torture”. But the experience has stuck with Bobby through his rise to power. Now we know why he hates volcano monitoring: he thinks it’s really a means of communicating with the devil.

This raises another interesting point. Bobby’s parents were Hindu, and young Bobby didn’t see the light o’ Jesus until high school. But were his exorsist tendencies cultivated entirely during his brief time as a Christian? Not necessarily. Some Hindus believe that humans can be possessed by evil spirits:

Hinduism accepts a fact of possession being possible, so there are procedures to remove spirits as well. They are of three kinds: Vaidika (based on Atharvana-angirasa), Tantrika (based on Agamas: Shaiva, Shakta & Vaishnava) and Shabara (folk traditions).

hindu exorcismThere’s even a gallery of photos from a Hindu exorcism. Neato! This is not to say that Bobby’s parents necessarily practiced this kind of exorcism. But it could mean that even though Hinduism is not as rigid as Christianity, and some Hindus have gone so far as to say that atheism is a subset of Hinduism, it fosters a spirit-based outlook. Couple that with a few years of hard Catholicism and you’ve got a recipe for an exorcist.

Hopefully the mature Bobby won’t have to perform as many exorcisms. But we can rest assured knowing that he’s keeping us safe from bullet trains to Sin City, and of course, sulfurous volcanoes.

Atheism and Secularism

Atheism is simply a lack of belief in any gods, and the fact that atheism in it of itself is a nonbelief has its advantages and disadvantages. Unlike religious people, atheists don’t automatically have any positive beliefs in common. This is an advantage in that good atheists cannot legitimately be linked to the bad actions of bad atheists (though there have been plenty of attempts to link them illegitimately). An atheist criminal must have at some point constructed a positive belief justifying his actions, and this belief is by necessity not atheism. On the other hand, religious criminals will often justify their actions through an interpretation of their religious teachings. Others who hold those teachings to be true must answer to the fact that, at the bare minimum, some number of their positive beliefs are shared by criminals.

But identifying with a group that shares only a negative belief has its disadvantages as well. It’s very difficult to organize around what you don’t believe in, and while it would be nice not to have to organize, the disciplined spread of misinformation about atheists by religious groups leaves the atheists at a disadvantage. Faced with this, atheists must organize or continue to accept their role as social outcasts. And while the onslaught of religious oppression against atheists creates temporary cause for unity, uniting around no more than what we don’t believe will lead to disunity later on. While that is not necessarily a bad thing, I think that we the people who don’t believe in gods should aim higher to create lasting change.

One way to do that is to adjust our message. We need to build a coalition that includes not only atheists but non-atheistic agnostics and deists, and the way to do that is by focusing on a more important question than simply whether or not gods exist: are gods or supernatural forces the driving forces in our lives? Atheists can easily answer no to this question since they have no belief in gods to begin with, but agnostics and deists, who in some cases are resentful of the invasive nature of religion, may find common ground with atheists and unite to create changes which benefit us all. We need to promote the concept of secularism, that regardless of whether or not gods exist, our lives should run on the basis of input from the natural world and our interactions with other people. Although this is a positive belief and thus not necessarily associated with atheism, it is something most atheists can agree with.

I am both an atheist and a secularist. In a way, atheism resembles a “sect” of secularism, with agnostics and deists forming different sects. But if all secularists set aside their minor differences and work together, we can make the world a better place for secularists. And, if we accept that a world with less oppression and exclusion benefits us all, a better world for secularists is a better world for everyone.

From the Archives: The Nonbeliever Non-Issue

Here is a post I originally made back in the Obamathon Man days. I’m reposting it here in its entirety. Enjoy.



I have already commented on Obama’s mention of “nonbelievers”… twice. But it seems three times is the charm; it’s kind of a big deal, both for me who is a fierce supporter of this move as well as for our nation’s controversy mongers (read: Fox News) who decided that acknowledging 19 percent of the US population was an offensive thing to do. And they’re not alone, AOL News (speaking of controversy mongers) reports that Bishop E.W. Jackson of the Exodus Faith Ministries in Chesapeake, VA, is not happy about Obama’s decision to acknowledge nonbelievers’ existence. “[I acknowledge that] this country is one in which everybody has the freedom to think what they want,” says Jackson, but “We are not a Muslim nation or a nonbelieving nation.” It is this erroneous and perverse sentiment that those who identify themselves as nonbelievers – we – are fighting against.

First of all, the idea that “we are not… a nonbelieving nation” is contradicted by American history. There is no indication that any of the founding fathers wanted the United States to be an explicitly Christian nation. The treaty of Tripoli, written during the administration of George Washington with the Muslim nation of Tripoli (modern day Libya), firmly indicated the religious inclinations of the US government:

“The Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.”

Washington himself went so far as to say:

“No one would be more zealous than myself to establish effectual barriers against the horrors of spiritual tyranny”.

A litany of founding fathers’ quotes relating to secular government can be found in this video, which defends Obama’s statement about nonbelievers. The secular nature of American government suffered during the cold war, when “under God” was added to the Pledge of Allegiance, and “In God we trust” was added to American currency. But our nation has retained the cornerstone of its religious freedom: the Establishment Clause, the source of official “separation of church and state” in America. Our government does not enforce or give preference to any one set of religious beliefs, or lack thereof. But separation of church and state works both ways: the state is in turn free from the dictates of any religion or non-secular belief system. Even if a religious group constitutes a majority of the populace, it does not hold the right to enforce its views on the minority; the founding fathers recognized the dangers of a tyrannical majority and guarded the nation against majoritarian prejudice by statute. If this is a Christian nation, is is just as much a Wiccan or Jain nation, not to mention a nonreligious nation. The government does not recognize the legitimacy (or dominance) of a religion or of nonreligion by taking a head count.

But the fact that this bishop would state that “we are not… a nonbelieving nation” highlights a terrifying reality all “nonbelievers” are all too familiar with: many people feel that discrimination against us isn’t wrong. Numerous state constitutions prohibit atheists from holding government positions. Administrators at Myspace have routinely deleted a prominent atheist/agnostic group while at the same time founder Tom Anderson personally pledged to defend Christian groups. A majority of Americans vow never to vote for an atheist even if he or she is well qualified. And let’s not even begin with the boy scouts.

Arguments for the legitimacy of discrimination against “nonbelievers” generally go something like: “Nonbelief is different from race, gender or sexuality. People choose their faith, and if they choose poorly, they are responsible for any discrimination they incur.” An anonymous email posted at about.com argues:

“I am fond of any number of faithless people, but I am quite convinced they have made a serious miscalculation in a fundamental matter.”

But this is really just a demonstration of what a terrible instrument religion can be, especially if the population at large is convinced that discrimination against the nonreligious is acceptable. Discrimination against those who don’t believe is an assault on freedom of thought, and there is no other freedom without freedom of thought. The real message of the anti-nonbeliever arguments is: “Join us, think like us, or suffer”. Tragically, many people who would otherwise be nonreligious are bullied into conformity by the societal pressure this reasoning propagates.

This is not acceptable. We must be allowed to think what we want, for if we can’t, our very existence ceases to be meaningful – not to mention the volumes of freedom-loving rhetoric that would be rendered hollow if free thought didn’t exist. And yes, freedom of thought means you have every right to agree with Christian doctrine if you so choose. But freedom ends where imposition begins, and Christians don’t have the right to impose their thoughts on those who choose not to embrace them. This includes all other faiths as well.

Readers might wonder about my use of quotation marks around the term “nonbeliever”. I do this because I personally only identify as a nonbeliever as it applies to religious dogma. Unlike some of the nonreligious, I accept the term “belief”, and there are some things I believe strongly. I believe in human rights. I believe in human dignity. I believe the highest calling for each of us is finding that delicate balance between living our own lives and making the world a better place for everyone.

As a nonreligious person, I will defend to the death the rights of citizens to believe, I will respect Christian individuals as my equal under the law, and I will demand they do the same for us nonreligious people. I call on all those who share my lack of religion to do the same. Those who try to make society worse for those who don’t conform to their ideology, like Bishop Jackson, are on the wrong side of history. To paraphrase Obama, “This is not merely a Christian nation, a Jewish nation, a Muslim nation, or a nation of nonbelievers. This is our nation.”

The Gay Community’s Unwanted Allies

protests
Today is the beginning of the Calfornia Supreme Court’s deliberation over what to do on Prop. 8. I’ve done a considerable write up on the matter over at my other blog, check it out for all the deets. With Prop 8 back in the spotlight, however, I couldn’t help but think back to the campaign season. As a hetero with no intention to marry in the near future, Prop 8 was not an immediate threat to me. But as an atheist, I was deeply disturbed by the religious tactics employed by the anti-gay forces. In a nutshell, the religious stump speech for banning gay marriage was “Let us discriminate against gays or you’ll be discriminating against us”. The anti-gay marriage website carries a handy set of instructions for churches, instructing them on how to push the anti-gay agenda to the limit. Opposition to this church-based movement is framed in discriminatory terms:

Recently, we have seen organizations such as Americans United for Separation of Church and State send letters to churches in an apparent effort to suppress the speech of churches and pastors on critical social issues.

What disturbed me was how easily this tactic could be turned against atheists as well. What if the religious movement decided that atheists could no longer marry? What if we spoke out, and a well organized, well funded religious campaign was organized claiming that it was in fact us who were oppressing them? I was always a supporter of gay rights, but upon realizing this, the struggle became more personal. Many atheists seemed to share my view. One commenter on the Atheist Revolution blog had this to say:

The push to ban same-sex marriage comes overwhelmingly from the Mormon and Catholic and fundamentalist churches, who are attempting to turn their personal religious beliefs into laws for everyone. You’re damn right that should concern atheists.

To my dismay, most of the No on 8 campaign seemed to involve conforming Gay Marriage with religious dogma, and convincing Christians that Jesus woudn’t slap them on the ass for voting no. Not once did I see atheists mentioned in relation to the campaign as it was taking place. Upon researching it now, I found a sickening post on a Christian website which quite possibly linked atheism to gay marriage in hopes that the bad name of atheism would help Prop 8 pass. Greta Cristina, author of the comment above, has an in-depth post about her experiences as a gay atheist, and how the gay community is surprisingly intolerant of atheists in their midst.

However, there are still plenty of gay folks who accept our help. Sometimes, the best way for us to help may unfortunately be to stay quiet, at least until the public becomes more accepting of atheists. But we need to work together. The fight against Prop 8 is our fight too.


Blogical

I’m starting this blog as an outlet for my thoughts on religion, it successes, shortfalls, and how I get along without it. As an atheist and secularist, I often get accused of only believing in “cold logic”, to which I respond, “What’s so cold about it?" Just because I think critically where where religious people don’t doesn’t make me cold, immoral or unfeeling. I’m not anti-religious per se, though I feel some religious practices do get a free ride where they shouldn’t. The main reason I’m an atheist is that I think a life lived on secular priciples is a better way to live. In reading this, you’ll probably see plenty of ideas you’ve heard before, and hopefully a few you haven’t. With any luck, you’ll understand where I’m coming from, and we’ll both be better off.
The Out Campaign: Scarlet Letter of Atheism
(image: happy human)

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