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r/atheism is full of 12 year olds.

25 Feb

I love reddit. I’m addicted to reddit. It’s one of the first sites I check in the morning and throughout the day. It has a lot of really amazing communities on there with great and helpful people. That said, r/atheism is a pile of shit.

I’ve previously defended r/atheism as a necessary community, despite all that goes on there. It’s important for a minority to have a “minority space” apart from the general public space where they can exist freely. Think of it as a sanctuary. (Pun intended) Other people on reddit might lament r/atheism’s prominence, but reddit is not a mirror of American society where atheists are in the minority.

Despite the need for a place like r/atheism, that place is still shit. Long ago I unsubscribed as it was nothing but memes and people posting “facebook pwnage” wherein they post pictures of them alienating and offending their religious friends. Thoughtful discussion is nowhere to be found. Just anger, obnoxious pictures, and circle-jerk cheer-leading.

I made the mistake of going on there and asking a research question for my book. I wanted to see what other atheists were interested in when they began to be interested in religion and atheism. I was trying to better focus on my audicence and what I should cover in the book.

Instead my post was instantly downvoted into the ground. If you don’t go on reddit, there are “upvotes” and “downvotes.” People are supposed to use upvotes to signal that they think something is a good submission, regardless if they agree or not, and downvotes to signal that they think something is a poor submission. In reality people just use it as an agree/disagree button. You might type up a well reasoned response to something, but people will still downvote you if they disagree. There’s often a brutish tribal aspect to it that we refer to “the hive mind.”

I thought perhaps someone had set up a downvote bot against my account (something that automatically downvotes everything you post) so I erased my original post and posted again under another account. That got downvoted into the ground too and someone asked me

“why do you keep posting these fucking stupid questions then deleting them?”

To which I responded about the downvote bot. I got in reply

“no, you fuck.

you keep ignoring everyone’s answers to you and you keep trying to frame atheism as a ‘belief’ similar to religion.

your motives are transparent, you keep on putting forth ‘research’ questions that frame atheism as a belief system then you ignore the answers except to try and argue that atheism is a belief system like religion.

you are amongst sharp people here. stop acting the fool.”

Nobody had answered my question yet and I was automatically assumed to be some theist troll. The poster instantly displayed his/her insecurity by prescribing me with intentions that had nothing to do with my post. If I didn’t follow the hive mind and just post stupid pictures, I was seen to be a troll and a threat to be harassed.

Seriously, fuck that place.

 

UPDATE: So apparently myself and 32,000 other people also said fuck that place and there’s a subreddit r/trueatheism. The people there are really nice and interested in actually having discussions as opposed to means and circle-jerk bullshit.

I’m going to try and write a book.

24 Feb

A few months ago I decided to try and make a set of “atheist flashcards” to help other atheists increase their general knowledge of religion and better prepare for any debate encounters they might have. In that project I focused on memorizing common bible verses, common arguments for the existence of god, and just general religious trivia.

My first attempt was a disaster. I made the flashcards to be printed out on paper and then attempted to piggy back my templates onto a third party flashcard application for smart phones. The user experience was abysmal. After getting some helpful input from people who bought my flash cards, I decided to try and make a stand alone smart-phone application. I spent the next month to two months of my life focused on writing this application. I had no coding experience and no idea about writing apps. I stumbled upon PhoneGap, a site that lets you drag and drop items in a graphical interface to build an application. This application could then be ported onto any smart phone. The downside (that I realized only after spending a month on this app) was that PhoneGap doesn’t create a finished stand alone program. It creates a “web app”. It looks and acts like a stand alone app for a smart-phone, but it’s not. It’s actually a cleverly disguised webpage. As such, you need a constant internet connection to use it. I got as far as having a working app on my phone, but the disappointment of not having a stand alone app after all that work (and the daunting task of trying to learn to program) combined with life events to kind of side-tracked me after that point.

It was while working on that phone app that my project began to change. It was no longer about just creating a smart-phone version of debate flashcards. I realized that what I was working on had the potential to be something much more. There was also just so much information that I was having trouble fitting into a flash card format. Furthermore, the flashcards seemed kind of arbitrary given that they weren’t tied to anything. Usually when one creates flashcards it’s because they’ve read or studied something and are making the flashcards based off of what they’ve studied. Well without something to study, there was no way anyone could get the flashcards right the first time through. The only way to begin to get the flashcards right would be to get them wrong over and over again.

Well fast forward a few months till now and I’ve started thinking about picking up the project again. I started watching more courses on how to program specifically for smart-phones and pulled some more books out of the library. It was at this time that my girlfriend suggested that perhaps an ebook would be a better format for the information I was trying to convey. I could always follow up with flashcards if I really wanted to. This got me really excited. I could do an ebook. I could get all my information across much more easily that way, and I wouldn’t necessarily have to learn to program an app.

The biggest problem I’m having right at the moment is that I don’t know what the focus of the book should be. I’m not entirely clear on what I’m trying to accomplish, and what the scope should be. I’m also not entirely sure of my target audience.

Originally I thought I would focus on orienting “new” atheists (or anyone for that matter) to the atheist community/movement/whatever. Whenever anyone becomes interested in something for which there is a community, there’s always this difficult period of orienting one’s self and discovering who’s who, what’s what, and what the current issues are and where the community is headed.  At the time I felt really connected to and current with the atheist community and figured I could use this in my project. However, it was a few months after I started this project that I decided to stop listening to the news and politics because I was just in a constant state of rage. Incidentally, I stopped really listening to atheist podcasts too since many of them talk about infuriating news reports relating to atheism. I kind of dropped out of the community then. I hadn’t done anything since the Reason Rally, and I stopped going to my local atheist meetups. I feel like I’m really out of touch with what’s going on in the community at the moment, and that kind of scares me when trying to write this book. So maybe orienting people in the community shouldn’t be my main focus.

Instead I think I’m going to try and orient them to religion and atheism in general. Sure I’ll point them to community things, but my main focus is going to be closer to the original intent of the debate flashcards, education.

I would like to direct my book at people who either just left a faith, or who have always been non-religious, but never took an interest until now. I would like to give them a good foundation of things they should know to in order to be a well rounded person when it comes to religion. I’m going to expand on the topics in my debate flashcards and cover things like general religious terminology, the well reasoned argument, logical fallacies and argumentation structure, the scientific method, a general overview of philosophy and the various fields, comparative religions including how the religions are structured, core tenets and beliefs, sacred texts and their history/characters/themes, and religion in a modern governmental/societal context. (Just to name a few)

The biggest issue I’ve run into so far is trying to keep the right scope. There are volumes and volumes of books written about everything I just mentioned. I’ve really got to fight the researcher in me that wants to write 20-30 page term papers on each subject. I’d never get my book done that way. I need to force myself to be general. This book is meant to orient people, to make them aware of things they might not be aware of, and to point them in the right direction if something in particular interests them. At the same time I’m worried about making it too general. I want to make something of value, something I won’t feel wrong asking people to pay for.

The Skeptic’s Annotated Bible is here!!!

23 Feb

A few years ago I ran across this site. The Skeptic’s Annotated Bible by Steve Wells is an amazing resource.  Steve took the time to go through and annotate the entire bible from a skeptic’s point of view. Ever wish you could instantly find instances of injustice, cruelty/violence, contradictions, misogyny, etc in the “good” book? Well Steve’s tagged every single verse in the entire bible with a searchable tag and commentary. It was not long after finding that site that I e-mailed Steve and asked if there was a physical copy of the book that I could by. At the time there wasn’t, but a few months ago he e-mailed me again to say that one was in the works. Well guess what, I finally got my copy this weekend! Steve even went ahead and signed it too! This thing is amazing! It has quick reference verses of interest in the front and back, along with commentary the whole way through. Man I wish I had this thing in my comparative religion’s class back in college!

P1000903 P1000905

And the atheist stereotypes continue.

11 Feb

My boss often has CNN on a monitor playing throughout the day at work. Well I’m sitting at my desk and suddenly I hear a familiar voice. I look over and The Amazing Atheist is on CNN. “How the hell did TJ get on the news?” I asked. My boss and his friend just laughed. They didn’t know who he was, and perhaps I shouldn’t have opened my mouth and given it away that I did.

CNN was having a segment on “Atheism in America.” TJ was their atheist, and then they had a panel of hostile guests there to rebuke the atheist. After the first guest started going on about how much he respects the soon to be ex pope for fighting against secularism and radical Islam, I put on some jazz and turned up my headphones.

Listening to that fake discussion with TJ as the representative of all atheists was just going to make me rage. I also really don’t want to have the religious discussion with my coworkers. I’ve long since realized it’s not productive to try and have conversations with them on religion, the intricacies of foreign politics, or anything for that matter. They’ve never really been outside of South Carolina and they get all their news from CNN and Fox.

Anyways, so CNN picks the most combative, scruffy looking atheist they could find, put him in front of a camera and then has a panel of respectable looking, family loving, wholesome adults attack him and how his views are a danger to your children. It’s almost like attacking a strawman. Then CNN’s viewers just eat it up.

I feel the same way about anarchism. People’s mental image of an anarchist is probably some punk kid with a bandana over his face, throwing rocks at storefront windows and just “making things shit for the hell of it.”

Either way, I’m tired of having to live with these stereotypes. The sad thing is that I feel the public would be hostile even if we did have some “respectable, family loving, wholesome adult” person to represent us. The news agencies would most certainly frame the discussion in a negative light for the atheist or anarchist. You could have someone like Daniel Dennet or Noam Chomsky on as the representative and they’d still be hostile.

There’s really just this temptation to embrace the stereotypes out of exhaustion of having to fight them, but that’s not productive.  The only way it gets better is to continue to fight them over and over again. It’s a war of attrition. That’s the only way anyone gains acceptance in a hostile environment. Ex. Black pilots in WWII or women in the workplace.

Still sucks though.

UK justice system terrified of Muslim minority.

30 Jan

Here we go again. A man, Adil Rashid, from an insulated Muslim community in England raped a 13-year old girl and was exonerated by a UK judge for “not knowing it was wrong to rape.” Judge Michael Stokes set Rashid free saying “you are very naive and immature when it comes to sexual matters.”

Rashid’s defense was that he was from an insulated community and “educated” in a madrassa where he was taught that “women are no more worthy than a lollipop that has been dropped on the ground.”

Assuming this guy honestly didn’t know it was wrong to rape a child (and let’s not bullshit ourselves, he knew), since when has ignorance of the law been a valid excuse? Oh I’m sorry officer, I’m from an insulated community and didn’t know it was wrong to speed. Yeah, that should get me out of a ticket. But this isn’t something minor like a speeding ticket. This man raped a child.

The UK justice system, just like so many other politicians, media outlets, and universities are terrified of enraging the Muslim communities that refuse to integrate into society at large. They are afraid that if they piss them off they will become violent and begin rioting and killing like they’ve done in the past over cartoons and low budget bullshit films on youtube.

Fear and cowardice disguised as a misguided sense of cultural relativism is at the heart of this matter. It’s not about race or immigration, as some might claim. No, immigrants and race have nothing to do with this. That’s a smoke screen put up by people who are terrified at the notion of calling someone else’s culture wrong.

Well guess what. Their culture is wrong. It’s fucked up. It’s backwards. Ours is fucked up too, but it’s a whole hell of a lot less fucked up than theirs. We don’t hold that half the population is worth the same as a “lollipop that has fallen on the ground.”

Happy MLK day

21 Jan

What makes someone an extremist or a radical? Simple: holding views that are far outside the perceived center of a society. Both “extremist” and “radical” are used almost exclusively as pejoratives. Labeling someone an extremist or a radical is a way of dismissing their argument on the basis of it’s unpopularity. This, of course, is an ad populum fallacy of reasoning; but everyday people take great comfort and security in knowing that a large group of their peers agree with them.

Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day; a day to celebrate the life and achievements of a great civil rights activist. Everywhere I look people praise MLK jr. like he was a saint. I hear things like: “A true patriot!”, a “real American!”, a “crusader for justice.” He’s put up there on a shelf with the founding fathers and Gandhi.

I find it really interesting that he’s universally lauded as such when, in the past, things were just the opposite. In MLK’s day he was not viewed as a true patriot, a real American, or a crusader for justice. No, he was an extremist, a radical, a trouble-maker. He was harassed and spied upon endlessly by the very government that now has an official holiday in his name. The FBI even went so far as to try and threaten him into committing suicide. There is even evidence to suggest the government had a hand in his death. He was among the ranks of those some called domestic terrorists.

Despite all this you’d be hard pressed nowadays to find anyone who would disagree that he was on the right side of justice. This is because the political center of the country has shifted since that time. The point I’m trying to make is that I feel we, as a society, often dismiss ideas simply based on the fact that they’re held by a minority of people, and not out of a serious consideration of those ideas. What is radical today might not be radical in the future. There are times I feel my views are excluded from society’s conversation for being too “extreme” or “radical.” I’m referring, of course, to either anarchist or atheist sentiments, neither of which are overly popular but which nonetheless I passionately feel are correct. I would like very much to see society’s center move closer to those ends of the spectrum. That may very well be happening in the realm of religious sentiments, however, I feel the opposite is happening with regards to anarchism as I perceive a shift to more oppressive, authoritarian governments.

In regards to the efforts of any group of people on the fringes of society’s center: I believe there is a group of people in society that I would call the strident moderates. These people irk me to the core. How would I describe them? They are the people to which everything must be done in moderation. Every issue is 50/50 with both sides of a conflict having equally valid points and goals. The one thing they cannot abide is declaring one point of view more correct than another. The world is perpetually gray to them.

Slavery vs abolition? 50/50. Women’s suffrage? 50/50 Equal rights for blacks? 50/50. Equal rights for LGBTs? 50/50. It doesn’t matter the issue. It doesn’t matter what either side does, it’s always even. A prime example of this is CNN. CNN desperately wants to be the “neutral” news station. They’re so desperate to be seen as neutral that they ignore excesses on both sides of the political spectrum and end up becoming strident moderates. It doesn’t matter if republicans started punching babies, they’d find some reason why democrats would be at fault, and vice versa.

When it comes to “radicals” and “extremists” that do not see everything in the world as gray the strident moderate’s favorite word is “wait.” MLK addressed this very subject in his letter from a Birmingham jail.

“For years now I have heard the word ‘Wait!’ It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This “Wait” has almost always meant ‘Never.’ We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.”

The point of “wait” for the stringent moderates is to make the issue go away. They hope if the extremists wait long enough, they’ll just disappear and society’s center will remain at the status quo. This is not to say that everything in the world is black and white. There are plenty of things in life where there is a ton of gray. The issue I have is with people who refuse to acknowledge that there is anything but gray.  Thankfully MLK saw a black and white (pun not intended) issue for what it was: the inhumane treatment of an entire subsection of the population based solely on their skin color. So how do we know which “extremists” and “radicals” are the “good” ones? Well that’s the million dollar question isn’t it? I’m not really sure there is an easy way to divine the answer. Most of society will disagree with the fringe groups, that’s what it is to be a fringe group. Ultimately time is the final adjudicator on what ideologies are correct and which ones aren’t.

It’s all a conspiracy!

7 Jan

One of my coworkers is really big into conspiracy theories and recently shared a video with another coworker who was much taken with it, and in turn shared it with me. The video “Our history is not what we think!” is packed so densely full of bullshit, pseudo-science, and woo that it instantly gave me a migraine. The entire thing is a long crazy conspiracy theory about how the “official” story of human history is a lie and that the “truth” lies in ancient mystical tablets, 6th dimensional beings, vortexes of energy, and aliens.

The creators of the video use the machine-gun technique of spraying out so many bullshit claims so quickly that it is impossible to adequately address each individual claim.

In another time I would have written down a list of each individual claim made over the course of the hour long video and addressed each one. This process would take days and is ultimately pointless. You see, when it comes to people who believe this kind of stuff and make these elaborate conspiracy videos, it’s not about the facts. They might claim that that is all they care about, but really there are strong emotional and mental factors at work.

People who often feel out of control in their own lives develop grandiose explanations as a way of coping with this lack of control. Making connections, even though those connections might never really be there, and drawing conclusions allows some measure of control that they desperately crave. Arguing over what the “facts” are and what evidence exists in an attempt to change the believer’s mind is a colossal waste of time. It’s never been about the truth, as much as it seems, it’s about the conspiracy theorist’s lack of self control. Michael Shermer grave a great TED Talk here titled “The pattern behind self-deception.” In the talk he discusses our pattern seeking nature as human beings and how we’re prone to conspiracy theories.

That’s not to say that all conspiracy theories are false. Sometimes conspiracies do exist. Example: The plot to assassinate president Lincoln was a conspiracy. The trick is discerning the real conspiracies from the false ones. To that end, Shermer has a great “bullshit conspiracy theory detection list” here.

As much of a pointless time suck as debunking each individual claim in that video might be, I can see how such a long rebuttal  might be useful for showing those on the fence how much bullshit is in that video. Since I don’t have the time/energy/ or care to spend that much time creating  such a rebuttal, I just decided to show my coworker two videos.

Both of the videos were by the youtube user Qualia Soup. He makes excellent, well thought out videos on a range of topics, but the two I gave my coworker were on open-mindedness and critical thinking. I figured this was the best possible response because, armed with these tools, they could then easily see the video for the mountain of bullshit it was. Furthermore, they would be able to see the red flags the next time someone starts talking about “spiritual energy”, secret undiscovered knowledge, mystical tablets, spiritual pureness, and all other manner of woo.

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