Friday, February 24, 2012

Why I call myself an 'atheist'

Among some people the label/word 'atheist' encompasses a set of attributes or conclusions of which are disconcerting. I understand the frustration when you express to a believer that you're an 'atheist' and they immediately conclude you have no morals, eat babies, 'believe in nothing', are angry at 'god' and so forth. The hesitation I've seen with respect to using the word/label is real but the hesitation can be overcome. The label/word is not all encompassing of any individual. It simply describes ONE position I or they have on ONE issue. Nothing about the word 'atheist' accurately describes anything about my life experience, taste, appetites, academic achievements, culture, personality or sexuality. If you want to know more about the positions or beliefs I or any other atheist may have, if I or they have any beliefs at all, you must ask a question. Investigate. Do not assume.

Some of the conclusions are drawn out of ignorance while others are obvious attempts at being a dick. Labels can be used to draw incorrect conclusions about an individual or group. They can also be used to behave as if you 'know the person or group' or as a dismissive tactic coupled with a strawman argument. I think the label can be used for good and it's not something to be afraid of nor hidden.

It is simply not the case that I do not have any morals. I do not like suffering so I do what I can to minimize it as much as possible. I understand I live in a community with a lot of other people and my actions can impact their lives. I don't rob banks, nor eat babies out of fear of celestial punishment or the threat of prison. I don't do those things because THEY ARE WRONG. No objective morality is needed nor should it be asserted as a necessary condition in order to act morally. I recognize the type of animal that I am in conjunction with many others. I will not just do what I want because it suits me. Unlike a lot of believers, I don't have a get out of jail free card and can ask for forgiveness and receive it no matter what act is committed. I wouldn't want the card anyway because I think it's the ultimate abdication of personal responsibility and accountability. I am accountable for my actions, to myself and to other people. Every other animal like me can hold my feet to the fire for the things I do. No god is necessary. I do what's right because it's right. I do not seek accolades or rewards as a direct or necessary reaction to something I do. If they come, so be it.

I embrace the label and wear it proudly. I do not advocate for the destruction of religion but I do want it to be  kept out of public policy and science classrooms. Believers are free, as they should be, to express their beliefs as loudly as they can and I am fine with that until some try to silence opposition and criticism by attaching wrong and unnecessary bull shit to my position or to me as a person. Making that choice will result in a vociferous reply. What some believers don't understand is calling myself an 'atheist' does not exclude me from humanity. I am still a person with wants, needs and desires. I have family, friends, ex girlfriend's who can tell you how stupid I am and so on. Nothing about being an 'atheist' precludes me from laughing, drinking with friends, treating people fairly or smacking down ridiculous arguments. It simply tells you ONE THING about me. When it comes to whatever you call 'god', a semantic definition will not suffice. You need to provide evidence, which is independent of yourself, in order for ME to verify for MYSELF. Failing to meet that demand means I cannot accept your proposition with good reason.

I believed in a god for 21-22 years of my life. My identity, respect for my upbringing, and culture were all fused with believing in 'god' and Christianity. I say that because I understand just how integrally tied some believers are with their religion. Any critique of the religion is seen as an attack on them. I separate their beliefs from them as a person. Despite their feelings and the many explanations I have given to separate the ongoing fusion, some will still claim they are being attacked personally. Those claims will not stop me from hammering, in a substantive way(depending on the person) the claims of the religion.

I'm an atheist. 27 years of age, Black and proud. I love NASCAR and I hate for my food to touch on a plate.  I do not believe in a god or gods and I am not ashamed to say it.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Why I'm no longer 'Pro-Life'

I hadn't been confronted with my former 'pro-life' views until my younger sister asked me to attend a clinic with her. I had no idea what this clinic was or why she needed to go, but she traveled 2 hours to come to Atlanta to have something done. I picked her up at the airport, she gave me the directions and we stopped at an abortion clinic in a mid-upper scale portion of Atlanta. While she was confirming her appointment I had plenty of thoughts about the matter such as "what about the baby, she's killing another person, why didn't she tell me sooner" and much more. I can now say my questions were misplaced and wrong. For starters, it's not a baby no matter how much the fetus lobby says it's one. Next, the person, the actual person where my focus should have been was my sister and supporting her decision. She did not ask me for my personal opinion, which at the time was one out of complete ignorance but she asked the only person she could and had the means to help her end her unwanted pregnancy. 

The fact I didn't even notice she had to travel 2 hours(4 total if you include her trip back home) just to come here and had to stay overnight means I did not recognize how many hurdles she had to go through just to feel liberated. She had to take time from work, spend money and have instruments jammed up her uterus. That's not something which comes 'easy'. Furthermore after she had her private medical procedure done, she was happy but I did not like her attitude. Given my questions which were based solely on ignorance and emotion, I could not see how she could be happy in any way. I believed that life is 'precious' in a religious sense and that she is obligated to carry the pregnancy to term or don't become pregnant. Who am I to think or say such a thing to another person? She was happy and she has every right to celebrate. I attempted to shame her and that's something I can ever take back. I'm her brother and I had no right whatsoever to impose my views onto her body and make her question why she made a medical decision with her body. For that, Melissa, I am sorry. In your time of need, I failed you in one of the worst ways but within my failure and upon further reflection, I was moved to challenge my previous position. 

Weeks later I began to delve into my views. I found many websites which can grab you with emotional ploys(see the hateful for an example. I came across material which treated my sister's private medical procedure as grounds to use her body and the bodies of all women as a moral playground. I dealt with the Sanger myths, the Planned Parenthood nonsense which states most of them are in 'urban'/black areas, the abortion/slavery comparisons(which is nothing but race baiting) and the constant 'personhood' trap arguments. None of those tactics help increase access to a medical need for all women. None of them help reduce the costs of birth control, increase the number of abortion clinics or their cost nor do any of those ploys remove burdening hurdles many states require before a woman can get the procedure. The lying and shaming of which I was a part, must end. The 'abortion is murder' line is a complete lie. The entire zygote, blastocyst, embryo, fetus lobby truly believes potential persons deserve more rights and entitlements than actual women. Their position is an assault on individual liberty and women's health. The 'pro-life' position is not about protecting life but it is about control. Women making decisions with their bodies is problematic. The value of the woman is within her uterus and she cannot be trusted to make substantive decisions regarding it. I thought that way, but I will not remain silent any more. 

I have come to the position that any woman ought to be allowed to abort the pregnancy for any reason. I do not waiver on that whatsoever. She ought to be allowed to do it without shame and scrutiny. Women are autonomous individuals and they should be treated as such. I as a man, someone who will never be pregnant, have absolutely no right to tell her what to do with her body. What all women need are affordable, safe, and accessible options for health care. Shame need not be attached to her decisions. Love women and support them. Fight for their rights. Do not remain silent and do everything you can to increase health care choices for all women. 

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Bemused Intransigence: White Privilege: Race & Gender

I don't usually write about race/gender but after today's first hand experience with the very topic I will be discussing/presenting tomorrow, I felt the need to document the event. The issue I will be talking about is colorblindness and describing the opinions gathered from an array of surveys, personal interviews and focus groups from white people of diverse educational and occupational backgrounds. What links all of these people together is their shared notion of colorblindness; the idea we should live in a society where people are treated equally regardless of their skin color, or the belief that we are now in a society where race no longer shapes life chances. Colorblind ideology does not ignore race per se, but it does ignore racial hierarchy and privilege. This utopian idea continues to manifest itself with a certain set of rules. Under this view race is nothing more than a indication of the pigmentation of someone's skin. Race is an individual and not a collective attribute and any claims of racism, structural or institutional, are personal problems. Race ought not be used to make political, legal or social demands for equal treatment/fairness, nor does it indicate any sense of historical, social or political commitments for that individual. Proponents of this ideology tend to define everyone within a vacuum not based in reality and their definition is based on what they think an individual ought/strive to be. This abstract marking of every individual sets up a set of boundaries wherein anyone that steps outside of the definition is considered some kind of deviant. Key thing is they define each individual. All other definitions are rendered unimportant.

My experience today demonstrated that very thing. I was tweeting about race and the perils and unnecessary nature of adhering to 'colorblindness'. Striving for equality/fairness ought not entail a willful, whether intentional or unintentional, blindness to a particular attribute about a person and or group which shapes their experiences, attitudes, beliefs, goals and desires. Race and gender are important. They are not the sole defining characteristics of individuals or groups, but they are crucial in gaining an understanding the successes and failures. A follower of mine(Bottle_of_Death aka its that one guy, he may still be there, I don't know), took my tweets as calls for victimhood, self loathing, called me a bigot and a racist. He opined that we(I assume racial minorities) guilt white people everyday about the struggles we have faced. You can view the entire discussion on my time line @Rev_Xavier. I warn you now it's very long and toward the end was absolutely worthless. Despite being called a bigot/racist and whatever else he felt I was, he never took on my actual point. In order to get to equality and fair treatment of all people does not mean anyone should ignore race or gender. He continued to claim I was ignoring the ideal of equality in favor or race/gender. I did not make such a claim nor imply it. He believes race and gender are non-starters for achieving that goal and argued I am obsessed with race merely by asking that it not be ignored. He dragged in all sorts of assumptions, declared I was being ambiguous(bull shit) based on his feelings and unwillingness to discuss race/gender. That is not my problem. He also indicated something I did not anticipate; race can be discussed but to a point and this point he determines. I find his view as I stated above to be problematic and I strongly disagree with it and I told him that. What I received in return was mockery, intransigence, fake niceness, dismissive tactics, name-calling etc. We are all the same kind of animal. We do have differences.

I think his reaction is due to a few factors. First, white male privilege. I myself benefit from privilege as well, just in virtue of being a man. However I do not use my privilege to silence the legitimate claims of others, nor do I belittle them or claim race/gender automatically trumps personal responsibility. Second, he expected a weak, non-substantive reply to his intransigence. It's not that he disagreed, it's the way he did it. Disrespectful mockery will not be met with civility. Third and most important, he adheres to the description provided above for colorblindness. This reaction was not unexpected. The discussion was witnessed by a number of mutual followers and only 4 said something directly to me about his remarks that I am a racist because I do not espouse the colorblind ideology. Perhaps some of my followers agree with his stance that colorblindness is the way to go, or they felt I could handle his mockery and wild assumptions on my own, or maybe some other factor is at play. I did have a few followers try to 'make peace' between us by claiming we both had valid points. This is simply not the case. He's arguing race/gender should/ought be ignored and saying I am putting those two above equality and I am saying there is no need to ignore race/gender to achieve equality. There is no 'middle ground' here. We are not both right about this and every single follower who tried the 'fence sitting' deal with me did not help one bit. We were not discussing equality. He tried to move the goal posts by  producing a straw man for my position and saying I am not for equality with the 'bigoted' reply. By moving the goal posts and constructing a straw man he looks like he has a point but he does not. He never challenged the point I made there or made here. Not once did I say the value of striving for equality was worthless or unimportant nor did I imply it.

This isn't simply a mis-communication. It's 'shut up about race/gender' because I gain some sort of psychological comfort by ignoring race/gender or by generalizing a point not made. His tactics were dismissive and he believes color/gender is a choice. I don't get to turn off my skin color when I walk outside of my home or walk into a bank. I will not shut up about race/gender to appease white privilege or anyone who promotes the colorblind ideology. I can and will document my experience as a Black man and will call out problems concerning race/gender when I see them.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Professional Distortions: Ray Comfort aka Banana Man

It did not take long for Ray Comfort to throw in his two cents about a campaign done by African Americans for Humanism( Several cities have billboards featuring respective freethinking/non-believing groups with a quote or question, the face the President of that organization and it's done in conjunction with Black History month(a free-thinker/nonbeliever's picture is also featured on the billboard). I applaud this campaign because it pushes back against the notion of Blackness=automatic religious belief(s). The process of diminishing the role of religion in the Black community must start somewhere and this campaign seeks to be a part of that endeavor. Ray Comfort is saddened and disheartened by this development which you can read here:

Ray Comfort comes from a line of professional Christian apologists that make a living off of distorting atheism and seek to attach another issue to atheism in order to dismiss it as a tenable position. It's sort of like throwing out your computer because it does not wash your dishes too. It's what you see when Comfort misleadingly attaches atheism to abortion and when he lumps atheism and evolution. If the person is not well versed in the 'dismissal by attachment' phenomena, they will be taken in by his logic, especially if it already coincides with what they want to believe. Implying or flatly stating that being an atheist necessarily leads you to support safe, affordable, and accessible health care choices for all women just does not follow. Those are 2 different positions with one not necessarily following from the other. Nor does it follow that because you are an atheist you accept evolution. Comfort seeks to spread his bad propaganda by ambushing non-experts on complicated issues and theories, toss in an impoverished or misleading question, then scream "I gotcha"!! This tactic is done by a man who does not care about facts. He simply wants more believers to be a part of his cult.

In 2009 a Pew Research poll indicated 88% of Black people in American considered themselves "religious". Given my own experience, I take the poll at face value. Notice Comfort's slimy patronizing remarks "that Blacks are too smart for atheism". He knows atheism has not been introduced to the Black community so he must get ahead of this 'problem'. He needs more Black people to believe than not so he must make an appeal to intellectual veracity and aptitude. I'm more inclined to believe he makes the claim out of a position of self serving propaganda. His assertion is made out of convenience and could boost his profits. He lies about abortion killing Black children which coincides with other nasty and erroneous nonsense made by Black clergymen(mostly men) and women's hate sites( A lot of Black people, especially men are silent on women's issues and are strongly pro-life. They believe they own Black women's bodies and she is the vessel from which to bring forth his seed. I'm not saying this is specific to the Black community only, but this view does exist. All it takes is the continued lying, misinformation and emotion pulling to keep the silence in place.

What really bothers me about this piece(other than the lying, patronizing and bad propaganda) is it will be accepted by many Black folks. The arrogance portrayed by Comfort is a common trait with professional religious apologists and they enable the believers. There are plenty of facts to refute what this particular fuckhead likes to promote but he's counting on a number of Black people not seeking the facts and taking him at face value because he's a Christian man wanting to save Black people and babies. Read that last sentence with as much sarcasm as you can muster.

The following videos and more can be seen of Ray. Check youtube. <<banana reference <<Ray's appearance on the Atheist Experience