Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Now Blogging at Patheos

Hello, gentle readers!

As some of you may have heard, I have been given the sincere privilege of being able to express my thoughts on Dan Arel's blog at Patheos, which is the premiere website for faith-based discussion on the web. Patheos is a remarkable platform for me to continue the god discussion and I am beyond grateful to have it. 

Many of my new blog posts you will see printed there, first. I will, after several days, take the time to copy them over to here. Those of you who follow me more assiduously would do best to look for timely work there. This website will remain active as a place for me to scribble my more immediate, personal, or off-topic thoughts -- and, again, Patheos blogs will make their way here after some time as well. 

I want to thank everyone who has so diligently followed the work that I've done here over the last two years, and I hope you follow me and some brilliant colleagues over at Patheos. The next act of this play is just beginning! 

Fondest Regards, 

Friday, January 9, 2015

Why The Inane Distraction of "Racism" Vis-A-Vis Paris Must Stop

I truly understand: there were a lot of feelings on Wednesday. Obviously, I expressed a few of my own -- without apology, I might add. 

But there is an increasing trend in the far Left that goes beyond mere apologist rhetoric for Islam, but counterpoints by calling all who criticize it "racist". This is obviously not a new tactic, though it is as cheap as it ever was -- especially after Ben Affleck impotently tried to indulge it against Sam Harris and Bill Maher last October. 

Since the Paris attacks on Wednesday, social media, blogs, and other outlets have been positively crammed with accusations toward atheists and those unsympathetic to the hurt feelings of Muslims when "blasphemy" is involved by calling our invective against their religion "racist". I won't beat a dead horse, gentle readers -- you know know why criticism against a series of ideas isn't racist and I won't belabor you with the point again. 

But now, the AQAP has specifically taken credit for the murder of Charlie Hedbo staff members, and their explanation will not come as a surprise to anyone with half a brain. 

(apologies for phone screenshot. Credit: Circa News App)

Enough is enough. The two days of constant badgering from religious apologists and neo-liberals claiming that criticism of religion is inseparable from criticism of the ethnic groups of people who believe in it must stop. The dialectic approach to the subject of religious terrorism has been proven correct more often than not. It was true in Copenhagen. It was true in Bamiyan. It was true for Theo van Gogh.  If the discussion is to progress anywhere to the level that it must in order for healing to begin and proper action to be taken, an observance of what religion is capable of must be properly had without silly distractions from those who are claiming a victimization on the basis of ideas they choose to defend. 

In other words, the far Left needs to stop hearing hoofbeats and thinking zebras. If it attacks a paper satirizing Islam (or any other free work committing what Islam considers blasphemy), if it kills those responsible, if it cried "Allahu Akbar!" and "We have avenged the prophet!" after the deed, it is most likely a religious terrorist given license to commit their heinous acts by the doctrines of Islam and shari'a. 

Saying so isn't racist. And how sad it is that a statement from these kinds of people are what gives us the platform on which to prove it. 

I am as much against racism as anyone else. When I see people committing it, trust me, I will be on your side. Until then, let's get back to talking about the horses. 

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Damn You, Faith

(Artist without credit. Will add if someone sends me the name)

I am going to do the thing that no decent writer should do. I am not going to compose a response to the events in Paris, which, in any case, were so heinous that they defy composed description. I am not going to comment. In accordance with my sentiments on anger posted just the other day, I am going to give you an unadulterated, unrestrained expression of fury.

Damn you, all those responsible, directly and peripherally, for the deaths of Charlie Hebdo staff members. You and your ilk are that kind of Mohammedan scum that make the idea of a civilized society a struggle even for the imagination. Your slavish needs to serve your own salvation over the the living liberties you and your fellow men possess is the single greatest catalyst for evil in the known world. I cannot, in the inadequate prison of the English language, articulate to you the hatred you so desperately deserve. If hell existed, it was created for you and you alone. 

Damn you, all apologists on behalf of the ideology that makes such people possible -- specifically Glenn Greenwald, CJ Werleman, and the delusional ejaculations of other faithiests rushing to placate the other 1.6 billion followers of one of the world's worst collections of ideas. Surely, not all Muslims are terrorists, but Islam is responsible for the ideology that spurs all Muslim terrorists on their bloody quests. Islam is the source of this fixation on martyrdom, hatred of secularism, blindness to reality, and complete refusal to adopt a sense of humor. It is what gives them a license to destroy themselves and innocent people. If the grand majority of Muslims do not indulge in this kind of behavior, we are grateful -- but it is not because their faith doesn't give them permission to express the most sinister breeds of puerile revenge. Really, that kind of moderation is one step closer to the humanism that all people should embrace. Harris was right on this point: there is no such thing as an extremist. There are only those who execute the orders of their faith more succinctly than moderates.

Damn you, all hypocrites on the subject of faith at large: those praying for victims of religious violence; those maintaining a belief in a false god is responsible while espousing the mercy of their own; those who ignore Christian terrorism in favor of Islamic terrorism in the vain hope that it justifies their own brand of delusion; those faithful who think faith isn't responsible. Damn those who pray for the souls of those who would condemn them were the drawings of Jesus, instead. You have officially become part of the problem. You are, to varying extents, responsible. 

Damn you, finally, god. The irony is painful, but I'm now forced to directly engage other people's imaginary friend. For even absent of existence, your mere idea is so toxic that it has spawned an entropy spanning millennia, and more blood-shed than can ever be forgotten in the rest of our history as a species. I am so beyond sickened that this is the result of a fairy tale, that the amputation of our most innate rights of expression and the sudden execution of artists are the culmination of a fucking bed-time story. And damn you most of all if you existed, as no plan but the most selfish, mercurial, wasteful, and sadistic kind of capricious masturbation would explain your complete failure as a benevolent deity. 

As far as ideas go, "Charlie Hebdo" and those who made it died for an idea far greater than you. 

Monday, January 5, 2015

On Anger

You should be angry. You should be furious.

Tomi Ungerer said that anger and all its accessories is an excellent tool for inspiration. As a young man who lived through Alsace in the war and post-war years, he should know. Vitriol has always been a staple of making some truly provocative art, and everyone from John Osborne to Pussy Riot has proven it. 

But anger is more than just the fuel for aesthetic provocation. It is a remedy to antipathy. It is the catalyst for passion; the precursor to action. In anger, we find ourselves full of the fire that is sometimes necessary to make change. 

So, when many friends and more detractors criticize my invective against religion, they are far more often attacking my method than my message. But the truth, gentle readers, is that we have been presented with much to be angry about. It would be too easy to mention FGM, or that Texas approved textbooks that illustrate how Solomon and Moses were American Founding Fathers, perhaps. Holding a match to a bare nerve is torturous, but only lasts a long as the match. 

No, my friends, be angry in the same way you are hungry: satiated briefly, but flare again when need arises. And need has arisen. In the overwhelming struggle against theistic malice, even I have felt the temptation of simply not caring, because that would be so much easier than reading every new headline detailing yet again how our world is being dominated by the delusions of people whose primary goal is their own salvation. Even as I type it, I feel the burn again. 

So, no, friends. Do not go gently into that good night. Keep writing. Keep debating. Keep yourself alive with purpose -- and if anger is your tool, then so be it. But do not bow to those who think your invective is a therapeutic outlet as opposed to the dignified outrage that religion so rightly deserves. As long as I stay angry, I stay aware that something in this world is terribly wrong. 

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.  

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

An Atheist Celebrates Christmas

I love Christmas. [insert shock and awe]

No, truly. Christmas is one of my favorite times of year. Those freaking adorable clay-mation specials showing on ABC from dawn 'til dusk, colorful lights strewn down every snow-covered lane, mulled wine -- who doesn't love seasonal drinks? Bill O'Reilly's face gets as red as Rudolph's nose because putting a plastic baby on a courthouse lawn is a sacred right. Christmas has, for the course of my existence, proven to be a time of gaiety, family, closeness, and more than a small sprinkling of hedonism. 

But wait! my detractors surely cry. That kind of blatant materialism is not the reason for the season, etc., ad nauseum. 

Surely, no one needs another run down of the theological history of the holiday. Blah blah, Yule, blah blah, Saturnalia, blah blah Festivus, blah blah stolen traditions. That's one record we've all heard before and it's no longer impressive. Rather than discuss what Christmas was, I'd rather remark about what it is, or what it's to become. 

There is a joke screenshot of an exchange floating around the Internet that was recently posted to my Facebook wall. Sadly, I don't know how to find the original source in order to give it credit, but here it is: 

The flip response, while funny, didn't really answer the question, which I feel is a valid one. The most obvious and perhaps important response is that Christmas and its hybrids are not actually considered religious holidays by a government standard (rather a contradiction, considering the use of the contraction of "holy day"), and are instead treated as national holidays. Atheists couldn't go to work on Christmas if they wanted to in many institutions, and if they were somehow obliged to on account of not sharing religious fidelity with the event, would likely be unable to complete the tasks required in most jobs. Can you imagine a single worker in a restaurant acting as host, server, cook, etc., while all his or her colleagues were off? It's not exactly a reasonable expectation. 

More to the point, however, the adherence to the religious implications of the holiday are, in my opinion, no longer applicable as the holiday is no longer religious in entirety. Christmas is, in many ways, now a secular holiday. The abundance of corporate capitalism and advertising notwithstanding, the truth is that many unbelievers have been celebrating Christmas for generations and find the holiday uniquely special for no reasons pertaining to a manger and a magically unbroken hymen. 

For myself, Christmas was (when I had the means to visit) a time to see my father and his family, who lived several states away. It was special for the bond we shared during those weeks and the love we expressed as a family. Ultimately, that hasn't changed -- I write this post two days before I go to see my mother and the rest of that kin, knowing that, due to a lot of trying circumstances, it will not be a lavish experience: there will likely be few or no presents and dinner will be an understated affair. This is just fine. In the course of my experiences, I've learned to associate this time of year with sharing oxygen with people I love. A few ribald jokes and some complaints about the weather -- presto! Christmas has occurred. In many ways, Christmas has become much of a second Thanksgiving -- god is less and less necessary to understand and enjoy the points of life on which we are meant to reflect. For every good thing I have, the people responsible are to whom I am thankful. 

This may seem tawdry to an alarming number of people, and much less impressive than the vaulted exaltation of the birth of a god-king from which all blessings flow. I'm inclined to think that such elitism is a bit of a shame, really. Sure, my Christmas doesn't have Christ, and nor do I think it should. But December 25th marks a tradition that has always been changing, evolving, and adapting to cultural climes. Perhaps the new mark of its evolution will be its secularization. And while loving my family and sipping some cheap whiskey may not be quite the same as a Palestinian Jew's apotheosis, my family and my love for them at least have the upper hand of existing in the first place. And that, in the words of Robert Frost, has made all the difference.   

P.S. With a similar viewpoint, albeit much better presented, here is Tim Minchin. Because, why wouldn't you? It's Tim Minchin. 

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Rallying My Dedication

I sit in the premiere hipster coffee shop of Kalispell, Montana -- the evangelical capital of the State, watching more plaid shirt-wearing yuppies bearing trite cross tattoos sip overpriced lattes than I think I can count -- and I realize that, if I haven't become a cliche (debatable), I am sitting in the middle of one. Kalispell, incidentally, is the same town that received some of my invective in Oh, Your god! for being womb to the fanatic anthrax known as Skull Church, and for housing Flathead High School: a public institution so blatantly disregarding of the separation of church and state that its theatre will produce Godspell and J.B. A Play in Verse while it sends its choir to sing at a Christian celebration of the birth of their Savior. Tax dollars well spent. Love this town though I do, it is difficult for me to shake the feeling whenever I come to visit that I have passed the doors of the Morannon and I am under the scrutiny of the Eye. Sieg heil, Big Brother. 

I write this entry fully aware that I am not observing, critiquing, or commenting on national or world events -- and my Circa app has been delivering enough on a daily basis to write for digital reams. I also realize I write here for the first time since commenting on the Werleman debacle in October. I have been negligent. In daily conversation with close friends and colleagues Dan Arel, Matthew O'Neil, J.D. Brucker, and others, I often hear of their new work being completed, new opportunities arising, and new contacts made. Exhausted yet thrilled, I support them as fully as I can (their efforts are beyond worth it) -- but the work of people I admire holds the mirror up to nature and makes brutally aware how much I have not been doing on this front. 

The answer is simple: grad school, apparently, requires work. I wish someone had told me previously. I would have been more diligent in avoiding it. Obviously, that kind of sardonicism is light-hearted -- I love exactly what I am doing and the work in theatre that I am accomplishing. There is nothing about it that is unfulfilling. But it is one half of who I am. 

And now that I am stuck in this Christ-obsessed hamlet in Northwest Montana, the oppressive snow beating down like Kinkade's worst nightmare, I am painfully sensitive to my serious absence in the atheist discussion over the last few months. I have spoken to no one about interviews. I haven't written more than several hundred words in blog or manuscript. New books sit on their digital shelves with not much promise of finishing in the next year. And I must confess myself distressed about it. 

Thankfully, there is some sunlight breaking through the clouds. 666, as far as I know, is still scheduled to be released in February. There have been few validating moments in my life as poignant as knowing that my thoughts will share the same spine as the work of far worthier scholars like Lawrence Krauss, Douglas Wilson, Richard Carrier, and others. The printing of that book will bring my focus and the focus of my readers somewhat out of the stagnation that I am currently mired in, I think. I also think that seeing it will revitalize and encourage me to give more time and energy to the debate that so desperately needs all of our voices, and on which mine has been unforgivably silent in recent months. 

In short, I am grateful for the support of readers who have reached out in the near past to ask me about upcoming work, and who have been vocal in their support of my efforts. I hope that the distractions of my other life as a student will not interfere too much longer in my pursuit of aiding the proliferation of the atheist methodology. I owe it to them, to myself, and to the discussion. Thank you all for being supportive, patient, and partners in our mutual goal for a more reasonable world. I am, as always, forever in your debt, gentle readers. 

Friday, October 17, 2014

Deeply Troubled by Colleague: CJ Werleman

(photo courtesy of Patheos)

It's 6:30 a.m. and I've just been awoken from a deep and much-needed rest with rather a lot on my mind.

Only last night, after scouring through the many, many blogs and articles being written about the feud (I now use the word ironically) between CJ Werleman and Sam Harris, I was beginning to feel the creeping tinges of dread -- the ominous wave of decision-making. For those who are not aware, it would be fair to say that I have had a collaboration of sorts with CJ since September of 2012, when I submitted the manuscript of Oh, Your god! for publishing. 

Dangerous Little Books, while being in every way mediated by a man named Joe Gregory, was using CJ as their -- I suppose 'spokesperson' would be the proper word. I believe CJ also owned part of the publishing company, and it was he who responded to my submission and with whom I spoke during various parts of the publishing process. It was also he whose name was on the contract, as an agreement between the Author (myself) and the Publisher (CJ). I was familiar with CJ's work at the time, and I had even read God Hates You (Hate Him Back), and rather enjoyed it though I didn't find it academically overwhelming. I felt confident in the professional relationship I had built with him and was looking forward to our future correspondences and collaborations. 

Since then, our contact has been minimal but amiable. The occasional email congratulating one another on this article or that interview was not uncommon. But recently, his work on the political motivations of ISIS, and his refusal to acknowledge the difference between the criticizing of ideas and discrimination against the people who embody them has given me great pause. It is no strange thing for people in a field as nuanced and opinionated as ours to have great divides in their methodologies, but it was striking for me to realize exactly how wrong I believed CJ to be on this subject. Many people in the last week have asked me what my thoughts were on the Affleck / Harris dispute, but that conversation has inevitably morphed into my thoughts on the Werleman / Harris spat. It came down to me decidedly having to say that on all ideas submitted, I was exclusively on the side of Harris. 

This would have been easy enough to say without qualm, until I read last night The Godless Spellchecker's thoughts about CJ's tactics while engaging Sam in this piece. The views that were brought to light were deeply troubling, and the email conversations published by Sam between he and CJ were even more so. It was beginning to seem that a man with whom I have had a decent professional connection was beginning to look a bit shabby, to put it lightly. More honestly, I took great umbrage with the flip manner in which CJ addressed many of Sam's legitimate concerns, and the remarkably self-satisfied tone with which he presented his conclusions (in order to avoid the ad hominem implications of that last sentence, it would serve the reader well to remember that I also disagree with the conclusions themselves). I went to bed last night after a lengthy discussion with fellow DLB author and close friend Matthew O'Neil, worried over potential actions to be taken. Should I make a public statement concerning my thoughts on this argument, and on whose side I was -- or would that just be internet grand-standing, jumping onto the carnage of an increasingly-heated fight in order to, as many people would see it, raise my own image? While I do have a serious personal connection here, I was leery of making the wrong impression. 

But this morning has changed much of that. Snapping awake without knowing why (the way one does just before the telephone unexpectedly rings), I grabbed my phone and began scrolling through my Tweets. Everyone from Godless Spellchecker to Dr. Peter Boghossian to Richard Dawkins was calling CJ an outright plagiarist and a hack. Peter is quickly becoming a friend of mine, and our collaboration on a couple of recent projects, along with a phone call and a several email correspondences, has led me to believe him a good man and a strong advocate for atheism. I also found his work in A Manual For Creating Atheists to be a serious piece of legitimate scholarship. I might have written off the title of Godless Spellchecker's new piece: "Is CJ Werleman A Plagiarist" as an attempt at sensationalism between two writers at the apex of their new conflict -- except that both Peter and Richard Dawkins had re-Tweeted it. As I read the piece, I began to distinctly realize that we were no longer dealing with differences in debate or lack of candor in engaging those with whom we disagree, but a violent betrayal of scholarship and the trust of readers. CJ's defense of having summarized two conclusions and use of cliche might well be close to the truth, but he would have to go a long way in proving it, I think. I, too, went to the Salon and Alternet articles wherein the supposed plagiarism had occurred, and found no citation or attribution to the original author. 

Long story short, it would appear that CJ was not the fellow I originally thought him to be, should these accusations prove more definitively true in the coming days. Yet I feel the express need to distance myself professionally from a man who seems to be certainly culpable of this kind of behavior. It was one thing to believe his conclusions in his debate with Sam were wrong; another to find his engagement with him banal and irksome, but such a flagrant disregard for the act of proper scholarship and the means by which many readers understand major issues of the day is, in a word, unforgivable. More importantly, I feel it is beyond necessary for a Dangerous Little Books author to say so.

It may well be that CJ has a perfectly good explanation for everything that has been thrown at him in the last few days, though for my part, I'm not sure he does. For the first time in a long time, I sincerely hope I am wrong in the end.