religion

Art and the Robot

A few years ago, I attended an art museum with Ania and one of her friends from her hometown.  There was friction between the three of us.  Ania hadn’t been in much contact with this friend for years at this time, and importantly, had come into her atheism and become involved with me in that gap.  Her friend, in turn, was still religious.  I earned some of her friend’s future antipathy to me by being a little too insistently flirtatious, which is not a good thing for a perceived cis straight man in a relationship to be toward a woman who is clearly uninterested, but most of it preceded that unfortunate buildup.  A lot of it coalesced into a rather unfortunate turn of phrase she used during that art museum trip:

“[S]he’s not one of those atheists, is [s]he?”

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A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

On December 28, 2014, the internet was rocked by the final words of Leelah Alcorn who committed suicide. Leelah took her own life because after revealing herself as Trans to her family, she was systematically abused and tortured until she would give up her identity. Her parents refused her access to treatment that would have helped her body develop in a way in line with her identity. She was isolated from any systems of support and repeatedly told that what she was and who she was, was wrong.

Her final plea was to create a Trans inclusive world where others wouldn’t share her fate.

First a quick introduction to what it means to be Trans: Someone who is transgender was assigned the wrong gender at birth. They weren’t, as is sometimes said in reference to Trans women: “born a boy/male”. They were never boys to begin with. This is not to excuse refusing to accept a trans person’s own narrative. If they chose to speak about their own story in this way, that is their prerogative and not for you or anyone else to argue with.

They go through a process called transitioning where they seek to reclaim their real gender identity through various means. These means may include a change of outward presentation through the use of clothes and jewelry, hormones, surgery, and other such actions. A Trans person may use all, some, or none, of these means, and their use of them is in no way indicative of the “realness” of their identity.

Over the last several days many people have shared her story and there is a push to make the changes that Leelah was hoping for.

I have also seen, however, in the last several days, people sharing memes about how religion killed Leelah. Even a well-known organization, American Atheists, shared her image with quotes from her note. Specifically, only those listing how Christianity was used as an excuse for her torture and abuse. What’s more, while the photo gendered her correctly, there was no mention made of the fact that she was trans. The focus on the picture was entirely on religion’s role.

While there is something to say about the religious enabling that made the bigotry possible, the level of appropriation demonstrated in this picture is sickening and an insult.

While Christianity did play a role in this abuse, it did so as an excuse to justify bigotry not as the cause. Religiously motivated bigotry exists in a chicken-egg state. Which came first the bigoted opinion or the religion that justifies it?

In this case however, the question of which came first is irrelevant. Regardless of their religious affiliation, statistical likelihood is that they would have reacted badly to her coming out. It is true that they employed their religion as a tool for their abuse, but it was not the only tool available to them. Our culture is pervaded with transmisogyny and trans antagonism. Men in dresses continue to be a major source of amusement. Gender identity is still struggling to be recognized legally as a protected right/class from discrimination. The murder of trans women is not recognized as a crime in the court system, let alone as a hate crime.

Being non-religious doesn’t prevent you from being trans antagonistic or trans misogynistic. There have been many examples within our own atheist communities. You can be an atheist and be a bigot. The two are not mutually exclusive. The graphic borrowing Leelah’s words, while denying her identity and her ultimate goal, implies heavily that that is in fact the case.

This is particularly dishonest, since American Atheists recently made headlines over asserting publicly that being pro-life and atheist are not mutually exclusive.
The purpose of the graphic was to harness the outrage over Leelah’s death and point it instead at a goal of their choosing. A goal that is not the one that Leelah gave her life in pursuit of. They are taking advantage of her death to persuade their cause. They do so with no indication or proof that their goals in any way change the lives of trans people for the better.

Let me lay down a few terrifying statistics for you:

  • The Average Lifespan of Trans women is 30. The most common causes of death are murder and suicide.
  • The ‘trans panic defence’ is the defence used by murderers of trans people for killing trans people. The defense is literally: “They were trans” and that is deemed a good enough excuse for taking someone’s life.
  • Trans youth and Queer youth make up the largest demographic of homeless youth. In the US and Canada between 40-50% of homeless youth identify with at least one letter of QUILTBAG. That percentage is higher in more conservative states.

Making atheism more accepted in the mainstream, and possibly even encouraging more people to become atheists, in no way does anything to address those statistics. This is especially the case when the organization refuses to admit that social justice concerns have a place within atheism: to wit their association with known anti-feminists, their assertion that being anti-choice is not against “atheist values”, and other such examples from their own recent history.

(EDIT: I have been told that Leelah called herself an atheist in public.Here is verification. Even if true, it doesn’t excuse the rest)) What makes this an even more shameless appropriation of the outrage at Leelah’s death is the fact that there is NO INDICATION THAT LEELAH WAS AN ATHEIST! (We don’t know! Perhaps she was, but she could have just as easily been someone who maintained a faith in a god. This appropriation just gives her parents one more fucking excuse for what they did. Her community one more fucking excuse for their bigotry. It makes fighting her fight just that little extra bit harder.

American Atheists owes trans people, and Leelah Alcorn, their apology. In the future they should show their support for trans people not by stealing the attention away from where it belongs, but rather by devoting their own organization towards creating a safer world. Either put up, or shut up.

The End.

Apocalypse of the Week 12: Thrust In Thy Sharp Sickle

Tribulation.  The Rapture.  The Second Coming.  For many, these terms are synonymous with the end of the world.  Indeed, the terms “apocalypse” and “Armageddon” both entered the public consciousness because of their appearances in the Bible, and have since become synonymous with the more general term “eschaton.”  But what’s actually involved in the Christian vision of the end of the world?  One could be forgiven for forgetting that the original story bears little resemblance to the modern-day, politics-themed reimagining lampooned in a previous installment.  Rather, here be dragons.  And enough gruesome torture to make Mortal Kombat cutscenes feel like Sesame Street.

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Apocalypse of the Week 11: This Magic Skull Goes All the Way to…Zero

The giant earth crocodile with mouths at all of her joints.

Giant ape-men with backward feet and hanging intestines that waylay travelers.

The plumed serpent of the sun, wind, and mercy, who raped his human-shaped sister while divinely hammered and still got to keep the “mercy” portfolio, and is also the planet Venus for some reason.

Feeding the sun with the beating hearts of thousands of sacrifices.

And you thought Revelation was sick.

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Apocalypse of the Week 10: Unspecified Event at Unknown Time with Voluptuous Edith

Of all the figures to get famous making predictions about the future, none stands taller than Michel de Nostredame, better known as Nostradamus.  This French (no relationship to Claude “Raël” Vorilhon, probably) almanac writer, medical assistant, and amateur astronomer wrote 1,013 prophetic verses that have not ceased, in the 450+ years since his death, to inspire credulous grandfalloons to align events to them after they’ve happened.
One would expect prophecies to be useful before things happen, but whatever.  If one has read Nostradamus’s incoherent ramblings, one knows that getting useful information out of them is kind of like squeezing apple juice out of oranges.  It’s just not in there, and one is liable to burn out one’s eyes and start laughing at oneself if one tries.
Here’s one chosen at random, since the 1,013 verses are presented in no particular order and were meant to be 1200 before some publisher errors cut out most of the last two sets:

Amongst several transported to the isles, 
One to be born with two teeth in his mouth 
They will die of famine the trees stripped, 
For them a new King issues a new edict. 
(Century 2, Quatrain 7)

Which isles?  There are thousands.  Which king?  It’d have to be one who still has decree power, which does narrow it down.  Which edict?  This king will, presumably, make more than one.  More importantly, Nostradamus obeyed the One Rule of Pretending to Know the Future: don’t tell people when.

So maybe the next Sheikh of Bahrain, facing a famine in one of the world’s wealthiest archipelagos for some reason, will issue an edict that all non-synthetic pants are to be confiscated for food?  Perhaps the Sultan of Brunei will drive his also fabulously wealthy people to starvation by replacing his agriculture ministry with a new body devoted to pinning even more medals on his uniform?  Will the Tongans finally descend into theocracy and proceed to starve within a few years on their tropical, nigh-unfarmable paradise?  Which is it, Michel?  Which is it?

Except, of course, when he totally did put in a time reference:

The year 1999, seventh month,
From the sky will come a great King of Terror:
To bring back to life the great King of the Mongols,
Before and after Mars to reign by good luck.
(Century 10, Quatrain 72)

This verse is the standard one trotted out to “prove” that Nostradamus was able to predict the future, since John. F. Kennedy, Jr. was on a plane that crashed in July 1999.  Also, a space shuttle exploded in August 1999, which is close to September 1999, which might be what “seventh month” means if Nostradamus’s guiding stars are using the old Roman calendar.  Either way, Zombie Genghis Khan didn’t rise from his grave and lead a renewed Golden Horde to kneeling before the Red Planet, which is apparently also a king now, so I’m not sure what all the fuss is about.

But what does this have to do with the end of the world?

Well, after learning of the significance of 21 December 2012 to the Maya, some enterprising conspiracy loons decided to poke through the quatrains and found this:

Sun twentieth of Taurus the earth will tremble very mightily,
It will ruin the great theater filled:
To darken and trouble air, sky and land,
Then the infidel will call upon God and saints.
(Century 9, Quatrain 83)

Also this:
For the pleasure of the voluptuous edict,
One will mix poison in the faith:
Venus will be in a course so virtuous
As to becloud the whole quality of the Sun.
(Century 5, Quatrain 72)

Apparently keeping in mind that the quatrains are in no particular order, these hooligans turned that mess of random phrases into an apocalypse of earthquakes (“earth will tremble”) apparently slated for later in the same year that Venus transited (“as to becloud”) the sun, a rare and amazing astronomical event that took place earlier this year.  And then turned “later that same year” into 21 December 2012.  Even though nothing whatsoever links the two quatrains and they are based ultimately on the ramblings of a 16th-century amateur astrologer and an equally spurious eschaton from a culture that fell from its prime around that time.

I, for one, am more interested in this Voluptuous Edith…oh.  Edict.  Allow me to compose myself.  Apparently, in Nostradamus World, edicts can be voluptuous and are pleased by “mixing poison in the faith,” whatever the heck that means, and also a few cheap shots at non-Christians counts as predicting the future.  Maybe Michel got a little stoned on Revelation before he wrote those two.

Allow me to close with another random quatrain:

“Meysnier, Manthi” and the third one that will come, 
Plague and new affront, to tourble the enclosure: 
The fury will bite in Aix and the places thereabout, 
Then those of Marseilles will want to double their evil. 
(Century 11, Quatrain 91)

Remind me to be in Marseilles when the world ends.  A two-for-one special on extra-sinful Voluptuous Ediths is not something to be missed.  Especially when the tourbling starts.

Apocalypse of the Week 9: Romania Will Rise Again

It’s easy to forget about Romania.  For many North Americans, it’s just another former Communist country in Eastern Europe, and most of what they know about it actually applies to the various countries around it more accurately.  For starters, Romanian is a Romance rather than a Slavic language, so the Romanian people have a lot more in common with Western Europe than most North Americans realize.  Also like Western Europe, Romania’s history is marked by the unification of a number of separate principalities that shared a language, and by a split engineered by the Soviet Union (which created the Republic of Moldova).
What an alarming number of Westerners are apparently certain of when it comes to Romania is that it will bring forth the Antichrist and from there, the end of the world as we know it.
Wait, what?
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Apocalypse of the Week 7: Wolves and Snakes and Eyjafjallajökull, Oh My!

Some end times scenarios are important not because of their modern adherents, but because of their pop-culture relevance.  With the Norse mythos’s return to people’s minds via the Thor and Avengers movies of recent memory, and the sheer cinematic splendor of the Nordic eschaton, let us examine how the pagans of Scandinavia imagined the world would end: Ragnarok.

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