Monthly Archives: April 2012

This school could have taught a real lesson

Thanks to a post over at the Friendly Atheist, we have information on an interesting incident that occurred several months ago at a high school in Tennessee. The school held a “Fictional Character Day” in which students could come to school dressed as a fictional character (can you guess where this is going?) One student came dressed as Jesus. Bam! There was anarchy the halls, babies crying, and cats and dogs taking up residence together.

Ok, not really. What happened was the student, Jeff Shott, was summoned to the principal’s office to have a conversation with three administrators at once about the “appropriateness” of his costume. Shott was told that his costume was controversial and likely to disrupt the learning environment. To be fair, the school administrators didn’t immediately force Shott to take off the costume. However, they did warn him that if even one teacher reported the slightest disruption, Shott would have to take it off. After being given this warning, Shott decided simply to remove the costume then and there (his writeup of the whole incident is available at the Friendly Atheist, linked above).

Jeff Shott as Jesus

I’m going to present two sides to this, starting with the side I probably would have taken when was in high school. I was a christian then, and I probably would have sided with the people who thought (as some people at Shott’s high school must have) that dressing up as Jesus and asserting his fictionality was a rude and disrespectful thing to do, and possibly shouldn’t be allowed. There is a feeling in American culture, and I’m sure others as well, that there is something “off limits” about religious beliefs. Criticize someone’s politics, or their scientific findings, or their beliefs about how to run a company, but as soon as a person’s beliefs become attached to a god somehow, they are then felt to be off limits, beyond criticism – as if a statement couldn’t be false just because it has the word “god” in it. It’s not a rational thing to think, but I’ve been there, I’ve felt it, and it’s real. When I look at the picture of Jeff Shott standing in his school cafeteria dressed up as a “fictional” Jesus, my mind goes back to the belief system I held when I was in high school, and my gut reaction is something like “Hold it – you can’t do that.”

But I see things differently now. It’s silly to object to, or be upset by (enough to cause a classroom disturbance) someone asserting the fictionality of Jesus. The supernatural Jesus is, after all, certainly fictional, and even the historical Jesus (in the form of an apocalyptic Jewish preacher around whom the Biblical myths coalesced) may be just a legend as well. But even if this weren’t the case, why should it be upsetting that a random student at a person’s high school was wrong? When a person honestly believes something that is patently false, there is little reason to pursue an argument with them, or to care very much about what they have to say. So why shouldn’t christian students at Shott’s high school simply ignore Shott, since he obviously doesn’t know what he’s talking about? This is what anyone would do if a student came to Fictional Character Day dressed as Abraham Lincoln. No, clearly the idea that Jesus existed is one most christians find needs defending. I wonder why.

The school administrators’ response to this event is something I find more probematic. Apparently the administrators thought that if the sight of a student dressed as Jesus incited a classroom disruption, the solution would be to make that student remove the costume, rather than punishing the students who caused the disruption. It seems to me that the administrators wasted a teachable moment, and planned on holding  Jeff Shott – who was following the rules – responsible for the actions of disruptive students who weren’t.

Instead, this would have been an excellent opportunity for the adults at school to teach the young adults that people have a right to their beliefs, and people have a right to disagree with those beliefs, and they must do it civilly. They must follow the rules of the school or the society at large that they are subject to. Offense is not free pass to behave however you like, or to silence someone with an opinion you don’t like. A braver school administration might have taken the opportunity to teach this, and it would have been far more pedagogically effective than any abstract discussion of free speech like the kind that are had in history class. This is real.

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Some things worth reading

I’m still trying to catch up on some links I’ve been meaning to share. Here’s two for today:

I’ve been thoroughly enjoying (and learning from) Valerie Tarico’s blog, Away Point. By her own description, she writes on the “intersection between religious belief, psychology and politics.” Her posts shed light on the religious underpinnings of misogyny and opposition to sex and contraception  in the United States (by our own elected representatives!) She often couples these analyses with straight-up factual information about contraception and reproductive health – something that many Americans get too little of. There is a post in particular that is chock full of information that probably everyone should know, regarding what contraception is available, how it can benefit us as a society, and what groups (church, political, medical, etc.) have a vested interest in keeping us less-than-informed on these matters. Check it out:
15 Things Old Boys like Rick Santorum Don’t Want You to Know About Your Body and Your Contraception

On a related note: battles over contraception are often actually about sexual morals and sexual permissiveness. The Religious Right wants to limit access to contraception and abortion facilities because they want to limit what we do in the bedroom. One of the best arguments against such a view – aside from the fact that it is a baseless and meritless moral system – is that trying to control people’s sexuality actually makes society worse. The data shows that social conservatism contributes to higher rates of teen pregnancy, abortion, and STDs. Many countries that are more sexually permissive than the United States have much lower rates of these problems. See for yourself:
5 Countries that do it better: How sexual prudery makes America a less healthy and happy place 

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A tribute to Hitch

Here is the tribute to Christopher Hitchens that was shown at the Global Atheist Convention last weekend.

One of the things I loved about Hitch was his ability to pick out the precise facts from science and history that demonstrate why a particular religious belief is so absurd. He gets to the heart of the matter, every time. You’ll see lots of that in this video.

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Filed under Atheism, Creationism, Evolution, Humanism, Morality, Reason, Religion, Science, Sex

A good article on non-monogamy

Here’s something I’ve been meaning to share for a while – an article on non-monogamous relationships. I don’t want to add a whole lot of commentary on the subject right now; I’ll just point out a few of my favorite points, and then leave it to those interested to read the article.

I agree that it’s better for everyone to recognize monogamy as something to be consented to, not coerced into. I think for many people monogamy is the only relationship structure they’ve considered accepting, so they haven’t really chosen it. They’ve been “forced” into it, and this isn’t good because 1) some of these people may actually be happier in non-monogamous relationships, and 2) people who have been coerced into monogamy will never be very accepting of those (other couples) who want to choose something else.

The author makes a point about marriage that I heartily agree with, even in the context of monogamous relationships. “When we commit ourselves to someone for life, we often fail to fully take into account the degree to which we grow and change over periods of ten, twenty, or thirty years.” Yes, people change, sometimes in ways that render them incompatible. The universe does not guarantee that two humans who love each other deeply will continue loving each other for the decades of time that our now-long life spans afford us. That is why I do not think marriage as a promise of lifelong committment is a tenable concept.

The author makes another point about marriage – we have a cultural expectation that one person should be able to “fulfill us in all ways—romantically, sexually, intellectually, and otherwise—for the rest of our lives.” What reason is there to expect this, other than the fact that we’ve always been told to? It’s quite a tall order, and, empirically speaking, it’s false. Many “monogamous” people go outside their relationships/marriages to obtain fulfillment that they aren’t obtaining within. Wouldn’t we be better off considering that, for at least some couples, non-monogamy works better? It’s a valid point. I’m not saying that non-monogamy is for me, but it’s clear that it works for some, and I think such a choice should be respected.

The rest of the article is worth reading.

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And speaking of the Catholic Church…

Here’s a writer from Australia giving the Victorian Catholic Church a good what-for regarding their stance on same-sex marriage. She calls out the hypocrisy, the malevolence, the sanctimony – it’s fantastic. Just read it.

Catholics – tell your bigoted bishops to ‘Shut the Fuck Up’

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Jesus, Don’t Let Me Die Before I’ve Had Sex got funded!

I’m a little late in announcing this, but the documentary I posted about here, entitled Jesus, Don’t Let Me Die Before I’ve Had Sex reached its fundraising goal on Kickstarter. Production will now commence under full steam. It’ll be a year or more before the doc is released, but I’m looking forward to seeing it.

Thumbs up for funding

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Some commentary on The Trouble with Gods

Eric MacDonald has taken a piece called The Trouble with Gods, written by Ophelia Benson, and written some commentary on it. Both Ophelia and Eric highlight clearly just what is the trouble with gods, but it was Eric’s commentary in particular that resonated with me, and so I’m going to share a few excerpts.

Eric quotes Ophelia in describing the type of god that humans tend to create:

It may be that competitive, aggressive, possessive primates can’t invent gods or a god that don’t become dictators because it’s just not in us to do without hierarchy and the principle of subordination. A cursory glance at our history seems to suggest that. If that’s the case, then a god is a disastrous thing for us to invent because it has supernatural total power with no accountability.

Then Eric adds:

And that, unfortunately, gives to certain human beings a kind of total power with no accountability. If you ever wonder why the Vatican is so corrupt, consider that it’s founded on the idea that God actually came to earth and left popes in charge! And that’s a recipe for disaster if there ever was one.

Indeed. What if a given religion is mistaken? What would the consequences be of following an invisible power with no accountability that turned out not to even exist? Here’s Eric again:

…religious leaders have had to convince their flock that they are, in fact, a flock, and that the limits on their freedom to think or to act have been laid down by a being that no one can see.

A being that no one can see. We are going to tell you what to do and restrict your freedom – but not because we say so, but because this being that no one can see says so. Again, what if this being doesn’t exist?

Eric quotes Ophelia again:

It seems to me that “God” has a stark choice. If it wants to be an authoritative or even just a helpful guide, it has to stay in contact—real contact, not pretend contact through other humans who simply say they know what God wants. Or, if it wants to stay hidden, it has to give up the authoritative role. It can’t do both and still claim to be supremely good.

And then Eric adds his own commentary:

And that means that religious leaders have a stark choice. Either they produce the real thing, or they surrender their usurped authority. And that is something they just won’t do, because — you know what? – unquestioned authority is a great thing. Just think what political leaders could get away with if they didn’t have to justify their actions, if they weren’t accountable!

Exactly. Who am I accountable to if I’m just following the rules of our invisible diety? Once I’ve gotten you to believe that this whole system of things is real, how is there any way to question my actions?

Whenever someone claims to have God on their side, imagine what they could be getting away with if their God isn’t real.

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