Wednesday, 12 December 2012

England and marriage equality

England - or possibly Britain, I'm not quite clear on that point - is working towards something that ought to be a no-brainer; the introduction of equal marriage. There is, of course, opposition, mostly from the religious. This is neither unexpected nor surprising. I have at times commented that Church and state should remain as separate as possible. I feel that this should go both ways; religion has no place in deciding the laws of government, and government has no place in deciding religious proscriptions, except obviously where such proscriptions would egregiously violate civil rights or protections. So in terms of marriage, I feel that the government needs to work to treat all its citizens equally - thus, marriage equality - while churches ought to be allowed to discriminate. They're private institutions, and cannot be compelled to offer their services against their will. Don't want to marry gay people? Unfortunate, but I wouldn't legislate against it. I feel it's to their detriment in the long run anyway. This all seems simple enough to me. Marriage equality is in, add a clause that you can refuse to perform the ceremonies, or refuse to allow your premises to be used for the ceremonies, and we're all done. Right? Nope. It seems this is insufficient for some religious organizations - in this specific case, the Church of England and the Church of Wales.
  • No religious organization or individual minister will be compelled to marry same-sex couples or permit the marriages to happen on their premises
  • It would be illegal for religious organizations or their ministers to marry same-sex couples unless their governing bodies have expressly opted in to provisions for doing so
  • The 2010 Equality Act will be amended to ensure no discrimination claim can be brought against religious organizations or individual ministers for refusing to marry a same-sex couple
  • The legislation explicitly states that it will be illegal for the Church of England and the Church in Wales to marry same-sex couples, and that Canon Law, which bans same-sex weddings, will continue to apply
The first and third points, as I've outlined above, seem like all we should really need. The second and fourth seem insane. This is also a breach of church and state separation, though in the opposite direction than we're used to. This is a government body legislating what churches can and cannot do - at the insistence of the religious. That it's aimed at individual churches, rather than church bodies, makes no difference. Do they not feel this sets a bad precedent? Since when do they want government telling their members what they can and cannot do? The reasons for it are immediately obvious, of course. The church bodies are afraid that their more liberal congregations will decide to start performing gay weddings against the express policy of the body. They're probably correct that it would happen. But that's an internal church matter. That's for the religious body to deal with and settle on its own terms. Expel the churches that disobey. Censure them. Have a schism. Something. But to make it illegal for an individual church to disobey the central body verges on the insane. I maintain the position that I've held a long, long time now - church and state need to remain as separate as possible, and this needs to go both ways. The collective people - all of them - have needs that must be met, and the churches can do their own thing on the side. That's how it should be.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

The more I read...

...the bigger I want to make the A+ logo I've inserted into my avatar.

I'll briefly re-state something I've said before; it doesn't bother me in the slightest that some people disagree with atheism+, or don't wish to use the label, or what-have-you. I disagree with most of my friends on at least one point, if not many. Disagreement is not only okay, I personally view it as absolutely necessary.

But in so many of the pieces I've read from the detractors of a+ since it coalesced have not stopped with mere disagreement. Certainly I've seen a few articles posted about why someone thought the label was silly, or they didn't like it, or wouldn't be using it themselves and why they thought the rest of us shouldn't use it. Again, these are not the problem.

The problem comes from the volume of posts that take this disagreement and turn it into flaming, personal attacks. Who spew bile on people they disagree with, and then try to excuse it by saying things like "if you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen". As though merely daring to post an entry on one's personal blog is an invitation to receive the most vile, hateful attacks one can imagine, and that this is how things should be.

The sad thing is, this is indeed how it is at the moment. Daring to post on a topic like this is, in fact, an invitation for the trolls to seep out of the woodwork. But I disagree that this is how it should be. This is why, more and more, I want to be part of atheism+. I despise the rationalizations, the excuses, from people who appear to want nothing more than to vomit all over the place, particularly from those who dare call themselves rationalists.

And then they have the gall to call us bullies? It's incredible.

I refuse to associate with these people. I refuse to be part of a community whose primary method of argument is to hurl insults and hate, whether or not said insults have anything to do with the topic at hand (calling Jen a slut, for example; what does that have to do with her stand on sexism in the atheist community?). I want to be part of a community that refuses to cater to the lowest common denominator, a community which believes in basic human decency towards everyone - every person, not every idea.

I want to be part of atheism+.

So yes, disagree. But please, leave the infantile tactics at home.

Monday, 10 September 2012

Man refused treatment in Calgary hospital for his jewelery

The title of this post is slightly hyperbolic, but I couldn't think of a better phrasing. The actual story involved a young man in a very goth-style outfit who visited a hospital in Calgary. He was asked by the admitting employee to remove his inverted cross; he agreed to tuck it away so it was no longer visible, but refused to remove it. When he did so the officer in question told him to find someone else to admit him. He did so, and the hospital in question has offered a full apology and is investigating.

To this point, there's not much wrong here. It seems fairly obvious to me that refusing someone medical treatment because of something they're wearing is absurd, and that the employee should be censured for his behaviour. The rest of the hospital staff did the right thing and corrected the problem, and as noted, an investigation is pending; it must be made clear to hospital employees that this behaviour is not acceptable, which it appears they are doing. No problem; if this was all there was I certainly wouldn't be writing this post about it.

The problems come in once I hit the comments on the article. I know, I know; such comment sections tend to be horrifying cesspools, better left alone, but a number of counterpoints seem to come up over and over again, and I felt it appropriate to deal with them.

"its not a matter of dressing the same, its a matter of dressing in a way some might find offensive in a public setting. You have the right to dress how you like on your own time, when you are going to a public institution, perhaps some respect in dress in standard are required for the free treatment you are receiving."

"He wasn't denied health care, he was told to remove his costume or to go talk to someone that would tolerate his freaky costume"

"Rather than trying to make a statement. dress normal and you would not have issues."

All these comments, and many other iterations of such, have the same idea in common: Fit in, look like everyone else, and you won't be discriminated against. But for a medical practitioner to behave this way because he dislikes a given symbol goes against all the ideas needed for a multicultural society to exist, especially one where human rights are held paramount. The man is a public employee; he is required to treat all Canadians equally, regardless of race, gender, orientation, and so on. If this man had refused to treat a man in a turban, would that be acceptable? If he happened to be an atheist and refused to treat someone wearing a crucifix, would that be acceptable? Of course not; the very thought is absurd. People have a right in this country to be treated equally, regardless of their attire, regardless of whether you, as an individual, think his clothing is 'silly' or 'clownish'. To state otherwise is ridiculous. Which brings me to the next theme:

"22 in my peer group was marrying age and working to get a house. Not indulging fantasies and crying to daddy and demanding my story get print when someone gives me the short stick."

"This smug guy that cries to the newspapera because he upset someone with his jewelry needs to rethink his life goals."

"Ahhh.... Look at me, I need all your attention, ...... Yeah, sure..."

There seems to be this overarching theme that this guy did all this just for the attention. Now, I don't know the man in question. Perhaps he really is indulging in attention-seeking behaviour. Perhaps he just likes the look. Perhaps something else entirely. But the same point stands; even if he is dressing like this just for attention, does it matter? Do attention seekers not deserve medical treatment without having to worry about what they're wearing? Should I be forced to remove a silly shirt when having my knee looked at, because the medical practitioner doesn't like it? Again, the idea seems absurd to me. He has every right to wear what he pleases, for whatever reason he pleases, and still receive the same care as anyone else, wearing anything else at all. His reasons for dressing the way he does are irrelevant.

I can imagine a scenario where a Christian is asked to remove his or her cross by an admitting official. Oh, the outrage! The cries of religious persecution. The yelling about how anti-Christian society is becoming. And the thing is, in an instance like this, I'd have to agree with them on at least some of those points. A citizen should not be compelled to remove their personal items without good reason, and "I don't like that thing" is far and away from being a good reason.

Friday, 7 September 2012

Ah. Democrats.

First, I heard that the Democrats had presented a platform in which god was not mentioned. I thought this to be a good thing, as anyone reading this might expect; I think I have made my views on church/state separation abundantly clear by now.

Shortly thereafter, I heard that the platform had, in this particular aspect, been rescinded by a 2/3 vote. This came as no great surprise to me, and I accepted it as part of the status quo of a society that is still changing, still evolving. No-one doubts that a large part of American society is still moderately, if not deeply, religious, and pandering to the majority will perhaps always be a part of politics. In particular, I thought, this may be a response to the Republican attacks on the lack of god in the platform; many Democrats still hold beliefs in a higher power, and would wish such a thing included. I assumed it to be a bit of political maneuvering, something that any of us who pays attention to the sphere of politics has necessarily been forced to come to grips with, no matter one's individual political ideas.

This viewpoint has changed.

It will surprise nobody to learn that I am an avid consumer of the Daily Show, and the Colbert Report. Indeed, as a Canadian, I rely on these two shows, the CBC, and a few others for my information on American politics. I have watched the keynote speeches of the DNC in their entirety online, but other than that I get my information from a select choice of reliable sources.

As such, the Daily Show was the first I saw of what actually happened at the DNC with regards to the supposed 2/3 vote regarding the inclusion of god in the platform. And having watched the actual event, I have to say that I'm deeply disappointed in my favoured American party on this issue.

The speaker who introduced the proposed amendment to the platform - I cannot recall his name - did so sincerely and legitimately. He stated, quite clearly, that the amendment was to include the mention of god - also the statement that Jerusalem was the capital of Israel - in the Democratic platform. He stated the a vote of 2/3 majority of delegates would be required to effect the change.

So far, so good; I personally think the whole exercise is ridiculous, but the entire point of democracy is that my individual point of view is only one of many, and all must be taken into account. Acquiring a clear majority to amend the platform seems a worthy place to set the bar.

So the voice vote was called. And it seemed to me, on listening, to be approximately 50-50.

A voice vote which is approximately 50-50, it seems clear, has not achieved a 2/3 majority. Having failed to do so, the amendment fails, yes?

Now, a voice vote can be ambiguous, particularly with such a large group in such a large setting. Calling a vote of delegates in such a setting, without any cleat way to maintain accuracy, seems a bit silly to me, but it was done. At this point, I think a few options present themselves as the way to move forward:
1: Accept that a 50-50 split in the voice vote is insufficient to claim a 2/3 majority, or;
2: Call for a more accurate method for counting votes.

Neither of these two seemingly reasonable options were the one chosen by the supposedly honourable mayor who called the vote in the first place. Having not received the clear majority he expected, and unwilling to concede that the matter was lost, he simply and arbitrarily decided to call the vote again.

A second time, the voice vote was ambiguous, a somewhat 50-50 split, well short of the 66-33 split needed, as per his own statement, to amend the platform. Time to declare failure and concede that the platform should not be amended? No, silly reader. Time to call the vote yet one more time.

At which point the entire thing becomes incredible, in the sense that it loses all credibility. For, having called the redundant voice vote a third consecutive time, he received the same response; a more-or-less 50-50 split between yea and nay. It becomes yet clearer and clearer that the hoped-for 2/3 majority will not appear; that, at best, 50% of the delegates support the amendment, well short of the stated requirement.

The only thing to do, then, is to unilaterally declare that the majority has been reached and the amendment passed. This actually happened.

I am not disappointed in the Democrats for including a religious viewpoint in their platform. This is par for the course, and though change is coming about, a truly secular platform is well into the future yet. No, my disappointment comes from the party's own internal dishonesty. From its own supposed commitment to honouring the truth, and its failure to do so in this case, when the rules are so clearly spelled out, and the failure to meet them so blatant. It comes from their willingness to pander, in this instance, in the face of the voices of their own delegates, by the conventions they themselves have set.

Were I American, I would no doubt still vote for the Democratic party. But instances like this serve only to shake my assurance that this is the party of honesty, of truth. That they cannot even abide by their own rules in the face of pressure is a strike against them. The Republicans are worse, far worse.

But we can be better.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

The detractors of atheism+ show why it's needed

I have a friend, who I met through twitter a long time ago. He's a Christian, but he's disillusioned with the church, so he started a little group of his own; he calls it Occupy Jesus. The goal of his movement is to take the politics, the fearmongering, the divisiveness, basically the 'religion' out of his religion. He doesn't even include things like the supposed divinity of Jesus in his platform, nor even the idea that the man necessarily existed. His entire idea, whatever your beliefs, or lack thereof, is that we really ought to all be living by the ideals that Jesus supposedly preached.

Now, he and I disagree on a lot of things, including the dubious morality of some of Jesus' supposed teachings. But his message, the one he's trying to popularize, cuts down to the deepest level of it. He's saying that whatever you believe, whoever you are, whatever you think of gods or the supernatural, the world would be a much better place if we'd all start treating each other with the respect and decency that Jesus supposedly preached.

I have not joined his movement. For me, personally, the fact remains that I can do all these things without doing them in the name of Jesus, and the inclusion of that name is a barrier to me; the name of Jesus is still incredibly conflated with the supernatural, with gods, with being 'saved', with miracles, and so on down the line. So Occupy Jesus is not for me. And my friend is just fine with that. He recognizes that we share the same ideals, but have different ways of going about them.

But I still think it's a great idea. He's encouraging people to be better, to themselves and to each other. If people want to do that in the name of an ancient Jewish preacher, what do I care? They're still striving to improve themselves. I applaud my friend's efforts, even though I disagree with them.

All this, of course, really puts what's going on with atheism+ and its detractors right now in a certain light. Disagreeing with us is fine. As I said in a recent post, if you don't want to identify with atheism+, I certainly won't get in your face about it. You want to call yourself a secular humanist? An ethical atheist? Just a plain old atheist who happens to be into social justice? Even a member of Occupy Jesus?

Dandy! No problem here. We're all striving for the same thing; the name we do it under really sort of fails to matter. I personally love the label, because it simultaneously identifies me as a nonbeliever and one who refuses to ignore social issues. It works for me.

But there are those who call us divisive, or arrogant, or whiners, or flouncers, or a myriad of other things. They think the label we've chosen is an attempt to make anyone who hasn't joined up look inferior. And so, in response, they heap vitriol and bile on the proponents of this new movement; the sheer volume of this that has been sent Jen McCreight's way has caused her to need a break from her blogging.

And still they don't stop. A torrent of threats, insults, and other hatred flooded this woman's inbox, and now that she has responded by needing a break from the vomit being spewed at her, she's accused of being a crybaby. A whiner. A sympathy whore. Such things as "Good, one down seem to indicate that this was the goal, and that such tactics will be used against others to achieve the same effect.

And these people dare to call themselves rationalists. These are the tactics of a five year old. This is not how adults get things done. This is not how civilized society behaves. Do we not deride others for using these tactics? Do we not, many of us, call the Republican party out for its use of rhetoric rather than reason? Do we not accuse the pro-life crowd of being more interested in using shocking, false pictures than in looking at reality?

How can we look at women complaining about the torrents of abuse they receive, just because they're women, and respond to that by doubling down on the abuse? How can we do that and in any way honestly still call ourselves reasonable? Rational? Again; there are those who don't like atheism+, who will never identify with this label, and that's absolutely fine. I don't identify with Occupy Jesus, either. But this abuse, this harassment, this flood of hatred is below us. As atheists, as rationalists, and as human fucking beings.

Disagree with us all you like. Be vocal about it. Give your counterpoints, and your arguments. But stop with the threats, the rhetoric. It's disgusting.

Friday, 24 August 2012

atheism+: if you're not with us, you're against us

This is not a mentality to which I can subscribe.

Richard Carrier has weighed in on atheism+, and though I find myself nodding my head in agreement with the majority of his post, I can't get behind the us vs. them mentality. That some atheists choose not to get on board with atheism+ does not make them our enemies. We still have more in common than we have differences.

Among those who choose to eschew adding the 'plus' to their atheism will be the misogynists, the racists, the homophobic and the transphobic, the privileged with no recognition of it.

But also among them will be those who think the name is dumb. Those who want to remain dictionary definition atheists. Those who identify as atheists but aren't part of the movement at all. Among others.

So I disagree with Carrier when he claims, as he appears to do in one comment, that anyone not joining a+ is voting for misogynistic douchebaggery. Some of them are. But not all of them, not by a long shot.

And as we go on, each side of the schism doing its own thing, I'm convinced that our side will grow. Many of those who remain as non-plus atheists will eventually be turned off by the harassment, the victim blaming, the misogyny, and will see our side for the positive, accepting force that I hope it will become.

For obvious reasons I think that most of these will be women. Again, not all of them. But many.

In the meantime, I intend to go on more or less as I have been. I'm well and truly on board with a+, but those who are not are not automatically my opponents. Those who show their bigotry are my opponents, whatever they call themselves, whatever movement they ascribe to.

But with the advent of a+ I'm excited at the thought of being part of a community where the bigots are not tolerated, where they're shouted down instead of tacitly accepted. That's what I thought atheism would be when I began my activism, and I'm glad to be joining a movement where those ideals are not just encouraged, but explicitly stated as necessary.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Atheism, feminism and stereotypes

There are certain stereotypes, certain words, that seem to too-often come to mind when someone mentions that they're a feminist. Feminazi. Femistasi, lately. Bitch. Cunt. Man-hater. Lots more.

There are also certain words, stereotypes, that often come to mind when someone mentions that they're an atheist. Godless. Immoral. Devil-worshipper. Baby-eater.

How can we possibly call ourselves rationalists when we can see the fault in the one and not the other? This is why I've had so much trouble coming to grips with the misogyny in the atheist movement. We KNOW that stereotypes are bullshit. And yet there are so many of us who hear 'feminist' and immediately think 'feminazi'? How does that work?

Feminism: the doctrine advocating social, political, and all other rights of women equal to those of men. Much like in so many areas of the world we're forced to advocate for the rights and equality of atheists.

That so many have trouble making this connection blows my mind. If Atheism+ is going to splinter the atheist movement, we'll only be better off for it.