Monthly Archives: June 2012

Some changes to my approach

Last weekend I attended a blues dancing event in Minneapolis (video to come soon!) – a weekend full of great friends, great dancing, great workshops and competitions. I’m always extremely happy when I get back from such events; they’re good for the soul.

Over the weekend and for a few days thereafter, I found myself avoiding my blog subscriptions, mainly because there’s so much negative stuff in there. Evil corporations, human rights violations, conflation of church and state… I just wasn’t in the mood for it. For a few days I also avoided posting about any controversial issues on Facebook, or starting any “fights,” as it were. Again, I was simply in a happy mood and didn’t feel good about the negativity.

This got me thinking. How can we demonstrate concern over issues we care about without getting bogged down by the negativity of it all? How can we fight against things that are bad without unpleasantness filling our minds? My answer – when I was ready to post again on Facebook – was to focus on affirming what I wanted the world to be like, rather than focus on denying the negative state of affairs I’d just read about. Instead of just saying “This is bad and wrong and stupid,” I said “This is bad, and this is what would be better!” I think it made a difference in my attitude.

Atheists often tout humanism as a logically positive complement to atheism. Whereas atheists spend so much time denying the claims of religious people, speaking about humanism gives us a chance to make positive statements about what we value and what we care about (not to say that atheist = humanist, but there is much overlap). I haven’t always put much stock in the importance of making logically positive statements, but I’m beginning to think it’s an important thing to do, for one’s own sanity.

What methods do you have for fighting the negative while still staying positive?



Filed under Dancing, Humanism

What should have been a no-brainer…

It isn’t difficult to find stories of Jehovah’s Witnesses who were willing to die, or willing to let their children die, rather than receive a life-saving blood transfusion. Here an ER physician tells about an interaction he had with the family of a severely injured young man.

It was around that time that his parents showed up and informed us that the patient was a Jehovah’s Witness and would not accept blood products under any circumstances. Even if that meant his death. They were adamant on this point even after I explained that we were not in hypothetical territory any more — that his injuries were quite life-threatening and the blood loss might be the factor that caused him to die. They were firm and well-prepared and even showed us a piece of paper signed by the patient, fairly recently, expressly refusing blood transfusions.

Blood transfusion

God has a problem with this.

The author expresses his frustration at this state of affairs, and his contempt for the beliefs that brought it about. I share his feelings, but I disagree with his analysis of the situation:

[The parents] valued some abstract, imaginary fantasy of the afterlife and their idiosyncratic reading of scripture over the real, actual living, breathing son whom they had loved and nurtured for two decades.

Yes, but this isn’t a fantasy to them. Given the option between a relatively short, relatively miserable current existence and an eternal life filled with happiness, the latter is a great choice. The problem isn’t, as the author implies, that the family has messed up priorities. The problem is that they believe things about reality that are simply false.

Image source: makelessnoise

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Filed under Religion

If you read one thing this week…

On the anniversary of his wife’s assisted suicide, Eric MacDonald is in excellent form on the subject of assisted dying. This cannot be shared enough.

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Filed under Assisted Dying, Government, Human Rights, Humanism, Morality, Religion

More on evolution denial and religiosity

Jerry Coyne has just gotten a paper published in the journal Evolution, on the relationship between evolution, religion, and societal health. As anyone who pays attention to American news, politics, or even daily life can tell you,  most people who deny evolution do so because it conflicts with their religion. As I have posted before, survey data bears this out.

Coyne uses similar data to demonstrate the relationship between evolution denial and religiosity. He also discusses how societal health influences religious belief. Finally, he offers suggestions for how we can increase acceptance of science and evolution on a national level.

Here is the paper’s abstract:

American resistance to accepting evolution is uniquely high among First World countries. This is due largely to the extreme religiosity of the United States, which is much higher than that of comparably advanced nations, and to the resistance of many religious people to the facts and supposed implications of evolution. The prevalence of religious belief in the United States suggests that outreach by scientists alone will not have a huge effect in increasing the acceptance of evolution, nor will the strategy of trying to convince the faithful that evolution is compatible with their religion. Because creationism is a symptom of religion, another strategy to promote evolution involves loosening the grip of faith on America. This is easier said than done, for recent sociological surveys show that religion is highly correlated with the dysfunctionality of a society, and various measures of societal health show that the United States is one of the most socially dysfunctional First World countries. Widespread acceptance of evolution in America, then, may have to await profound social change.

If you’re interested in these issues, read the whole thing! (PDF)


Filed under Creationism, Evolution, Religion, Science

Protecting a student’s right to make anti-gay statements

Following up my previous posts on free speech, we have a case involving the ACLU and a student’s right to wear a T-shirt with an anti-gay message.


The front of Seth Groody’s T-shirt.

Wolcott High School in Connecticut designated April 20th a Day of Silence in order to raise awareness of anti-LGBT bullying and harassment. On that same day, junior Seth Groody wore to school a T-shirt depicting a rainbow with a slash through it – an anti-gay statement. School officials forced him to remove the T-shirt.

The ACLU has pointed out that this is unconstitutional, and they’ve asked school officials to guarantee that students’ rights to free speech are not infringed in the future.

“The First Amendment was written to protect unpopular speech, which is naturally the kind of speech that will always need protection,” said Sandra Staub, legal director of the ACLU of Connecticut. “The ACLU has fought hard for same-sex marriage and we couldn’t agree with Seth less on that issue, but he is absolutely correct about his right to express his opinion.

“The impulse to suppress ideas that we find unpleasant is antithetical to freedom and democracy. That’s why the ACLU of Ohio stood up in 2006 for the rights of students to wear T-shirts supporting same-sex marriage and the ACLU of Connecticut must stand up in 2012 for the rights of students to express the opposite sentiment.”

This is the right thing to do. I, too, am vehemently against anti-gay sentiment, but if people are to be free to express good ideas, then they must also be free to express bad.

The only exception I would make is the exception that US case law already makes – if speech becomes so frequent or disruptive that it infringes on the rights of others, then it becomes harassment, and it is no longer protected under the First Amendment. If a great number of students at Wolcott High came to school wearing anti-gay shirts, that would arguably create an oppressive atmosphere towards LGBT students, with negative consequences for their psychological wellbeing. Anti-gay bullying is a big issue in American schools these days, and it isn’t to be taken lightly. However, if only a handful of students are openly expressing anti-gay sentiments, then the answer is for students and teachers who disagree to raise their voices higherand to repudiate the idea that there is something wrong with being attracted to members of the same sex.

(via the Friendly Atheist)

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Filed under First Amendment, Free Speech, Government, Homosexuality, Human Rights

Dancing funtimes

It comes up every once and a while on this blog that I am a swing dancer (lindy hop is my main dance, in addition to blues). One of the reasons I haven’t posted many updates lately is because I’ve been busy with dance-related pursuits. This past weekend there was a large swing event in New York City, and I performed along with some fellow NY dancers. For those who are interested, I thought I’d share the video of the performance. The lightning isn’t great, but we were very happy with how the piece turned out.

You’ll notice one aerial move in the video, as well as lots of fast action. Lindy hop is a very athletic partner dance!

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