Sunday, June 22, 2014

An Answer to the Federal Appeals Court: Why the 9/11 "Cross" is Offensive

An article published yesterday on Fox News' website chronicled the current appeal on a case that was submitted by American Atheists in 2011 and was subsequently thrown out which concerned the right of the now infamous "cross" that remained from the wreckage of the World Trade Center to reside at the National September 11th Memorial Museum. In this article, we were informed that an appeals judge has given the plaintiffs until July 14th to submit legal briefings detailing as to how exactly the presentation of this cross was a "constitutional injury". 

(photo courtesy of Top Right News)

The question seemed easy enough to answer to Yours Truly, despite the controversy surrounding it. I thought since I had the afternoon free I might give a couple of the more obvious reasons that many of us find the inclusion of this piece of rubble in this museum worse than offensive -- reasons that the conservative media seems to conveniently forget. 

Namely, the presentation of the cross at the museum is an example of American credulity. It banners to every visitor who may come to see it that we live in a country that cannot tell the difference between the extraordinarily likely event of a cross-beam remaining intact after the demolition of a building that must have contained untold thousands of similar steel structures from divine artistic expression. It would be equally asinine to place a pancake bearing the face of Mother Mary behind a glass box in the same commemorative building. Legal and moral reasons aside, I am not a fan of advertising that kind of stupidity on a cultural level. If some people wish to think that this remarkably obvious coincidence is the work of the supernatural, by all means they may. But to symbolize it on a national level communicates openly (and wrongfully) that all American citizens share in that kind of fideism. 

Secondly, the cross suggests to those who see it that the event is a Christian event -- as though it was a psychotic attack on Christianity as opposed to a secular country, or that the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and Flight 93 were populated only by Christians instead of people of all kinds of religious and philosophical stripes. A cross-like shape remained in the rubble and Christians across the world rush to monopolize the grief on a tragedy that was the result of an attack on all varieties of Western idealism, not simply those obsessed with Christ. Beyond the fact that that kind of solipsism sends a message that is obviously separate from reality, I don't wish by my silence to endorse such an egotistic, amoral capitalism. As it would be impossible to accurately represent the faiths and philosophies of all the lives lost on that terrible day, the only fair response is to represent none of them. 

Thirdly, September 11th was the result of insane, dogmatic fervor. It was an event that, sans religion, would not have happened. To commemorate the slaughter of one religion's zeal with the icon of another equally destructive, detrimental faith seems to me to be a moral hypocrisy of the most nauseating kind. 

Finally (and perhaps most to the point), the National Memorial is in part funded by tax-payer money. The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment and the idea of the separation of church and state as illuminated by the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom (penned by Jefferson and Madison) are excellent precedents supporting the idea that the American citizen does not have to support any one else's ideology in the public square, and that Congress and the United States Government is forbidden from expressing support for any particular faith. If Congress or specific government agencies have allotted money to the National September 11th Memorial Museum in any amount, then they are supposed to have the full faith and trust of the American citizenry that it has been used for an equally representative platform. Much as it is a "Constitutional injury" for my money to fund the proliferation of Christian ideologies and junk science in public schools, so it is the same injury for said money to support the proliferation of Christian icons in a national memorial.  

This is the kind of reasoning that comes from simple understanding of First Amendment rights and an objective view on the subject at large. I have heard many arguments to the contrary but none that have convinced me on these specific criteria that, much less that the cross in the museum would be offensive, but that it would be remotely a good idea on an otherwise even playing field. The sooner that the conservative Right and the Christian fundamentalists in this country realize that their religion is just fine in their private lives and not to be blazoned as a symbol of a tragedy for which we all, and not just Christians, share, the sooner we will reach something of the level of religious sterility for which the Founding Fathers so strenuously fought. Those who still have qualms about that last thought would do well to send their objections to Article 11 of the 1797 Treaty of Tripoli and get back to me.    

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Twin-Sister of Religion, Selfishness, Rival in Crime and Falsehood

Hello, my friends. It would appear that my earlier prophecy of finding a topic on which to write has come to pass, and surprisingly one more personal than the epic clash of a war-torn Middle East or the whimsy of a stuffy Easter mass. Rather, I have been forced to introspect in a way that is about as comfortable as swimming through a pool of bleach and broken glass -- that is to say, evaluate the true source of my work and decide whether or not it comes from (as Percy Bysshe Shelley says in Canto V of his Queen Mab) that "twin-sister of religion, selfishness". The apparent wrongness of that accusation has been paramount to me since I began putting my thoughts and arguments into the public square, but the accusations of ego-masturbation and fiscal greed have surfaced voraciously enough from opinions about which I care and with enough frequency in the recent past that I feel a response is now necessary. 

In the preface of Oh, Your god!, I begin by elucidating my complete lack of title or credit in this argument -- that I am not an academic of religion in the mortar board-donning sense, but that all scholarship can be assumed to be created of three primary tenets: to read the work done on the subject, to think about said work, and then to talk or debate or contribute. This can be done by anybody, anywhere, and most often can be heard being done enthusiastically after a few pints in the back table of a random bar on a Wednesday. Once I had achieved this revelation (two years into my own college experience, as it were), I realized that contribution to the discussions worth having in our species was not only allowed, but it was a moral responsibility -- how could we live in a world where the collected knowledge of mankind exists in our pockets but relegate ourselves to ignorance on any of our most important topics? Not that I think or thought less of those who don't toss themselves into a debate the same way I and many of my friends do, but similarly, in a time when the tools are so readily available, I've never understood how people can resist the urge to do that very thing. 

And so in tandem with this revelation came the desperate need to contribute myself, to add my voice to a cause for which I thought was so terribly worth fighting -- the inanity and cruelty of faith. I had for years been reading the unparalleled rhetoric of Christopher Hitchens, seen the elegant, scientific arguments of Victor Stenger and Richard Dawkins, and had as well seen with my own eyes the more subtle but equally toxic effects of faith in an average, quotidian day. Since the book that came from these inspirations is itself the explanation of why the idea of faith is so terrible, it does the reader little good to regurgitate it here -- however, the need was so obviously there, the field so ripe for battle, that I was practically compelled to begin the clacking of the keys. 

When one sits down to write such a work, one doesn't think of best-sellerdom (at least, legitimately -- the odd, glancing joke of a National Book Award might fall in here and there). One doesn't think of fame or notoriety because the work is so engrossing. It would be impossible to complete anything resembling a compelling argument and at the same time be wistfully imagining your throngs of adoring fans waiting to greet you with social fellatio. Or, if I cannot speak that generally, I can speak so personally: thus it was not the case for myself. My eyes were blinded by the explosion of the Bamiyan Buddha statues in Afghanistan, the conflagration of the World Trade Center, the immolation of a tube track in London, and the flare of pipe-bombs in Oslo. My ears were crammed with the screams of the children of Wedgewood Baptist Church, with the slow groans of perishing orphans at the hands of Mother Teresa denying them proper medicine, with the cries of murdered children of Christian Scientists as their parents sentenced them to death for the sake of "freedom of religion". Subsequently, as I wrote so fervidly against what appeared to me to be obvious evils, it never occurred to me that many would think that my verve came from purely selfish origins. 

With the release of Oh, Your god! came a release of another kind -- the catharsis in knowing that my work could be beneficial to others, that the effort one makes in crafting such a project served for something more than its own existence. Reviews began to come in, emails started pinging in my inbox, strangers struck up conversations with me by phone and street-corner. What began as words in my head took corporeal form and began to have an effect in reality. This served as an encouragement to double my efforts in forms of social media -- my Facebook became a sounding box as much as it was a social tool. A Twitter was developed solely for the reason of book promotion and thought discussion. But opening the debate in such a way also opens oneself, and then the darker work came to me. 

In a podcast interview I had given a couple of weeks ago for the new group UpStartsUS, I was asked what the most important trait was required to be a writer in my field. I explained that my most invaluable tool was a thick skin, to learn whose opinions matter and whose don't, because undoubtedly people will disagree with you in the most volatile manners. But I did not think that argumentum ad hominem would spring from some of my closest friends nor from what appeared to me to be purely innocuous pursuits. 

Only a couple of weeks ago, a very, very dear friend whom I love as a father demanded via Facebook message that I call him as he "was pissed", which I promptly did. A barrage of attacks upon my character then ensued -- that I "just loved to watch my followers go crazy whenever I post something", that I "just lived to piss other people off", that everything I did "was about [myself] and that [I] didn't give a fuck about the world or peace or whatever." I tell you, gentle readers, my type of fury is an uncorked champagne bottle -- hard to incite but explosive when tapped. I admit with shame that I came unglued and bellowed at this friend I love so much, because I had so quickly and unexpectedly been wounded to the core, completely blind-sided by an intelligent man whose opinion I cared about, and made to respond to heinous accusations of my own personality when I had done nothing but endeavored to fight against a truly terrible threat. Suddenly, to him, this wasn't about the debate, my beloved conversation to which I desperately wanted to contribute. No, to him it was about my own ego, my own illusion of significance. Forty solid minutes of out-of-character, uncontrolled berating on both our parts left the end of the phone call hollow, numbing, and utterly heart-breaking. We are still friends and love each other as much as we ever did, but that conversation definitely took from me some intangible thing that I am not sure how to replace.

As though this incident was the proverbial straw, the weight of the camel slowly began to press against me. Snide remarks from social media merely within the last two days have grown more irksome. Just yesterday, at discovering that the Kindle version of Oh, Your god! was the second-best selling atheism book in the United Kingdom, just behind the monumental The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins (this sales position has since come down a bit, as arguably it should have done), I posted a thank you and a screen shot of our books on the best-selling list together to the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science Facebook page, thanking Mr. Dawkins and the RDFRS for their inspiration in my work and for the world-wide work they do for advancing secularism and reason. I couldn't have found my thanks or my reason for posting them more clear, but was immediately commented by someone that I was using the massive following of the RDFRS Facebook page as free advertising for my work. I indulged in one single comment, explaining that wasn't my intention, and was again met with an accusation of tawdry selfishness. Rather than continue the argument, as was typically my wont, I took the post down. If ever I come across Mr. Dawkins' email address, I will thank him personally and quietly. 

This morning, after posting on my Twitter a promotion for my book and getting some forty-two retweets, I was met with a reply that I was a "classic career atheist" and that I was "making money from good causes". Again, I was hurt in the most irrational of ways -- a stranger, likely a troll of some kind (though he has, even since the posting of this blog, genuinely apologized), makes one flippant remark about my ethics and rather than disregard it, I had a slight emotional reaction. For all my words above and the general grasp of empathy you must embody, dear reader, it cannot seem to me that I have so missed the mark of my work that I seem to be money-grubbing, self-important egomaniac looking to rub a few quarters together at the expense of a civilized revolution. I began with the best of intentions which I still harbor, and which I instill in my current work on my chapter in 666. 

So, rather than letting this post be a banner of reflection and an expression of insult as it can so easy be, instead I am creating it with the purpose of clarification, an official statement of my person and my intent meant purely for my detractors and not for my supporters. My work speaks for itself, and so do I. I will not and cannot be compartmentalized to some inane corner of public opinion that, in despite of all evidence to the contrary, thinks of me as self-serving. I live in a world where holy liars, frauds, molesters, thieves, murderers, autocrats, and general douchebags exert power and punishment over innocent people because their faith gives them license to do it. In this world do we see continually shifting borders, the burned corpses of children outside bakeries in Aleppo, decimated health clinics, children on fire in ditches in Nigeria (I'm sorry, did I write "children"? I meant "witches".), and countless other atrocities because, on our meager planet, we are forced to acquiesce to someone else's imaginary friend. No, gentle readers, I will absolutely not engage my life against this kind of reckless stupidity and be called to task for working for myself. Absolutely not will I be accused of selfish demagogy when I make a Facebook post denouncing the evils of a blatant disregard for the separation of church and state, or the brutal banality of disavowed marriages, thrwarted scientific curriculum, or mass shootings from a person who says without a hint of irony that "[g]od told him to do it." 

If the clear and unadulterated obscenity of faith and its actions or my arguments are not yet clear to you, I would tell you to read my book. Steal it, please, if you would -- I am sure somewhere on the internet is there is a website to download the .pdf for free. Heaven forbid you think I am only trying to make some money off of you. 

Sunday, June 8, 2014

On My Current and Upcoming Work

Hello, gentle readers. 

Many of you have probably noticed an absence of work on this page for the last couple of months. I am afraid I cannot guarantee that will soon change. I've been lacking in my usual verve to put fingers to keys due to a number of distractions. And while the subject of religion typically galvanizes me with the same desperate energy as filled Winston when he began with April 4th, 1984, I admit that other works in the same subject have been taking up both hours and seconds of a life too short. 

For those who are kind and indulgent enough to care, a new book bearing my name will be released in February of next year. A kind Englishman came up with what I found to be a brilliant idea: to take six topics and throw them into the eager, snapping jaws of six atheists and six theists, and through debating chapters allow the reader to peruse the arguments from both sides simultaneously -- appropriately titled 666, I was humbled and grateful to be asked to contribute a chapter on "The Philosophy of Atheism", on which I am currently working. The pressure is on, gentle reader, as the other names to light this theological marquee are made of far greater foot-candles! Also contributing chapters will be the best-selling and renowned theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss of book and lecture fame, who recently was featured in the documentary The Unbelievers alongside Richard Dawkins, with whom he has worked extensively. As well, Richard Carrier of outstanding academic distinction, Colin Humphreys, and William J. Abraham are all giving chapters to this engaging work, along with several others. As I am now in something of the ring with heavy-weights, my meager chapter is being given the bulk of my attention, and I fear that any less will make it unworthy of the same ink as these scholars -- though even at my best, it may well fall short. So indeed our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt. Giving a voice to the fight against theistic delusion is undoubtedly a good that might be won. 

As well, I am directing The History Boys in Northwest Montana -- a play that is not a light academic pursuit for those are are familiar with it. In tandem is my performance as Satan in The Last Days of Judas Iscariot, and my due diligence as an actor requires that I simply not let the old boy down. Beyond which, the Flathead Valley in the summer is simply a vision -- replete with glacial rivers and lakes, unparalleled sunshine and breeze, and a chock of my oldest friends all gathered -- the thought of blogging even on the most provocative of topics somehow feels to be wearing. 

All this, of course, precedes what will become the greatest of all time-sucks, which is my commencement of study as a Master of Arts in Central Washington University in late August. How I will ever find time to write a thing between teaching and class-work, I'll never know. 

This is not to be a laundry list of excuses as I hope to continue this page in as good of form as I can in the coming months. Perhaps it is merely a soft plea, gentle reader, to those who have been most ardent in expressing claims on my opinions on various current events, that should the water hole be slightly dry, I'm sure that some thunderous storm will soon break and open a torrent of words -- I can, after all, only contain myself for so long, should the right catalyst strike me. 

All the best, my friends.