July 25, 2011

Guest blargh

I”m a terrible friend. This guy has been bugging me about posting this guest thing for weeks and weeks. It’s been so long what he has to stay might not be relevant anymore, but we’re going to see.

Introducing Luc Duval.

Time and time again, an atheist organization presents an advertisement that is immediately deemed “offensive” by some religious viewers. Many of these advertisements point out that atheists are “good without God,” and atheists respond to the religious criticism by saying that they don’t understand why these ads are at all considered offensive, because all they say is that we’re good people and we exist.

For example, the Freedom From Religion Foundation recently purchased billboard advertisements in Columbus, Ohio, and one of them (accidentally, the ad agency stated) went up on a church’s property.

The church complained and the ad was moved. Hemant Mehta of The Friendly Atheist heard about this and stated,

There is absolutely nothing offensive about this billboard. It’s not attacking Christians. It’s not insulting Christianity. It’s Dylan stating that he can be good without god.

Or does that go against everything this church teaches?

I find myself disagreeing with such prominent atheists in this regard. “I can be good without God,” is not a superficial statement, and Christians have no trouble reading between the lines. If Dylan, in this case, announces that he is a good person without God and religion providing his moral foundation, then he’s arguing that God and religion are not necessary in order to be a good person, which absolutely goes against church teachings. Being told that one of your most significant beliefs is wrong causes offense.

Great! Be offended!

We atheists can be more controversial than that in our sleep. The American Atheists commissioned aerial banners to be flown on Independence Day. They either read “God-LESS America” or “Atheism is Patriotic.”

This time, columnist Mitch Albom condemns the AA for doing such a thing and is getting flack for it by atheist bloggers (which is fine). He doesn’t actually whine in typical anti-atheist fashion by saying “how dare you say something that I don’t personally believe,” but instead by saying that atheists are being hypocritical.

They’re not hypocritical. I’ll let Greta Christina field this one:

Atheists aren’t the ones trying to shut up religious believers. When religious ads go up on buses and billboards and TV, we roll our eyes and go about our business. We don’t agree with the advertisers… but we don’t try to stop them from advertising. Sure, we’re trying to get religious messages out of government — no Ten Commandments in City Halls, no creationism in public schools, no prayers to start city council meetings, etc. — but that’s a separation of church and state issue. (One that works for religious believers just as much as it does for atheists, I might point out.) When it comes to religious groups hawking their message on their own private property — or on other people’s private property they’ve rented with their own money — we may think it’s obnoxious or silly, but we totally respect their right to do it.

A mild surprise to me, PZ Myers, the most famous atheist blogger, argues that these aerial banners are not offensive; “These are perfectly pleasant, inoffensive messages…”

Wrong. These banners stand in direct opposition to many people’s deeply cherished beliefs, and that is offensive.

Here’s the thing: the fact that a person’s religious sensibilities flare up when they’re made aware of atheists’ existence, the secular foundation of our government, or religion-independent ethics doesn’t matter to me in the slightest.

Do I get annoyed when bombarded with religious ads? Yep. Do I get upset when I think about how much money televangelists make off of their scams? Yep. Do I scoff at religious bus ads? Sometimes. But I don’t expect these things to go away because I’m “offended.” In fact, I specifically would want religious advocates not to stop advertising in order to protect my sensibilities. I want them instead to stop advertising because they realize that they have no legitimate evidence behind their religious claims whatsoever (or because they run out of money due to lack of support).

Hey, religious people, to hell with your sensibilities. If you’re offended by outspoken atheists, I completely understand.

I just don’t care.

June 23, 2011

Sticks and Stones

There’s been an upheaval regarding free speech lately, and it’s something I feel I need to reflect on. As someone who hides this blog from certain people in my life because I feel as though I’ll be cast out, freedom of speech is sacred to me. Especially because I feel like I can’t use it completely, even around my closest friends and family members, it is something I take seriously as an American a human being.

I think that often people confuse the limits of free speech with what they consider hate speech. Consider the recent developments of Roger Ebert and his comments on Twitter regarding the death of stuntman, Ryan Dunn. Following Ebert’s remark on Twitter, Facebook took it upon themselves (I am unaware of how many people represent “Facebook” but I will make it plural) to remove Ebert’s fan page from the site. What in the world does that solve other than call attention to the insensitive remark in the first place? Also, regardless of the nature of Ebert’s comment, the only reason it became such a big deal is because of his status. I’m more than positive other people were saying the same things, but no one knew about it because it was tweeted by @JohnDoe and not Roger Ebert.

In a more extreme case of hate speech, John Galliano is being tried in France for anti-Semitic comments he made at a bar that someone happened to catch on video. Apparently it’s illegal in France to “[incite racial discrimination,] hatred or violence based on…ethic [sic], national, racial or religious group” affiliation (CNN). I think in Galliano’s particular case there’s an absence of intent. He was drunk and on some sort of medication, and according to his testimony, still recovering from the death of a close friend in 2007. While none of these things excuse anti-Semitic beliefs, if that’s the way he feels, he has a right to it. And he generally has the right to express it. Here’s the thing: I understand that what he said was generally disgusting, and if he really feels that way, he probably doesn’t have many real friends. But we don’t have to listen to him. And we don’t have to fan it all over the media, which only serves to further the hate instead of raise awareness about equality.

Finally, let’s talk a little about Tracy Morgan. I don’t watch 30 Rock (which I guess is an abomination of sorts), and I don’t know anything about his comedy routines. I also love gay people. Morgan was recently called out to apologize about remarks he made during a stand-up routine in Nashville, Tennessee. He spoke at a press conference, backed by GLAAD representatives who accepted his apology as sincere. Morgan’s stand-up remarks weren’t funny. And he admits to knowing they were in poor taste immediately upon delivering them. There was probably a lot of unnecessary pressure for him to apologize, though. If he already felt bad about what he said, he could have made a simple statement through his publicist condemning his words and remarking on the importance of not making comedy of homophobia.

There is more power in action than speech, right? So organizing drunk driving awareness walks and getting involved when your friends are too drunk to drive themselves home is how we fight against jackasses driving drunk and those who have smart-ass things to say when they do.

Jews and non-Jews being good people together and showing respect to each other for their likenesses and differences as people is how we fight ignorance and intolerance.

I’m sensitive to homophobia because I see it everyday in simple places and I’ve seen how it affects people. I think it’s an unreasonable viewpoint and shouldn’t be taken lightly in most settings, like school and the workplace. But comedy is something that’s always been offensive. It’s the comic’s right to say things that might startle, offend, or incite adverse reactions of any sort. Someone, somewhere has told jokes in the same vein as Morgan’s and has been received positively. That person’s views are despicable, but he has the right to think that way and he has the right to express those thoughts, even if it offends his audience.

People are always going to talk. And as long as I’m around, I hope they have the right to talk. It’s the way the talk is received and promoted that spreads the most hate. I don’t mean to blame the media — again. But I feel like spinning and respinning these stories is what causes the most damage, not the actual speech itself. There is freedom in speech, and there is freedom in press, but it’s how those freedoms are used that shapes the way the speech continues.

May 24, 2011

What a disaster

Here’s the thing. What happened in Joplin, Missouri, is a terrible, terrible display of what nature is capable of. Here’s what I don’t understand: we say this every time.

Remember Haiti? No? Oh. Bummer. It’s been a little over a year since the earthquake, and we’ve pretty much all forgotten enough to redirect our Red Cross text messaging donations to the next most devastating disaster. (I’m not against donating money or aid, hence the link to the Red Cross donation page. I just think we’re a little misguided.)

There was the tsunami in Sri Lanka, there was Hurricane Katrina, the Icelandic volcano eruption. Earlier this year, we witnessed the horrific Japanese earthquake and subsequent tsunami and aftershocks. Why are we consistently surprised at the magnitude of these disasters? We know that Earth and her elements are capable of taking us out at any given moment.

Why the extra drama? I know the answer to that question — drama and heartbreak and the plight of the people sell. There’s a reason this image has become one of the most iconic of the Great Depression. We’ve always had a sick fascination with examining the downfall and despair of other people.

I guess what I’m asking for is an overhaul of news media. Disasters happen and they’re sad, but the news is supposed to be unbiased. Maybe that makes me a little cold, to want my reporters and anchors to be stoic in the presentation of events such as these. But separating emotions from facts will allow me to develop completely my own feelings about the terrible things that happen in this world on a daily basis.

Because, in fact, I do care. I care that people everywhere experience horrors every single day, but we only hear about a handful of them. It would surely take up the entire 24-hour news cycle to report on every flood, every tremor, every explosion. Maybe that’s what we need, though, to remind us (Americans, yeah, I’m talking to you) that we are all the same.

May 2, 2011

Good timing

I’ve been considering starting a blog for a while now. Maybe because it’s been a year since I graduated college with a degree in writing and haven’t felt compelled to write about anything since. Maybe it’s because I only have one person with whom I can really talk this kind of stuff out with, and I thought a larger audience (hopefully) would help me sort out some of my thoughts. Or perhaps it’s because I’m hoping that someone out there shares my apathy about the world and can make me feel like less of a schmuck for not finding significance in what’s happening in the world to America in the same way that other Americans tend to.

So I guess I chose a good day to start this blog. In my first display of apathy, I guess Osama bin Laden is dead. Cool…?

I feel like there are 2 camps regarding this new development: those who are celebrating in the streets and those who have mixed feelings about celebrating the death of anyone, even if he was kind of a shitty dude.

My apathy about his death comes in knowing that it doesn’t change much in the grand scheme of things. Al Qaeda is still a powerful entity without him, and I’m sure they have backup leaders waiting in the wings in the event that something like this would occur. In addition, because his death came so late after 9/11, I fail to see the relationship between the two and how his death serves any purpose in righting the tragedy of that day. I’m fairly indifferent to the concept of justice in this case. My views on capital punishment are for a different post, but I rarely think death rights wrongs. Bin Laden’s demise doesn’t rebuild towers or reunite families. It’s just another event that will bring us together as a country for a short while, before we remember that we still violently disagree with our neighbors on things that are happening at home.

In the future, when my children are assigned projects with the prompts of, “Ask your parents where they were on 9/11 and where they were when they heard Osama bin Laden had been killed,” I’m not sure I’ll remember the details. I was relatively young on 9/11 — thirteen and in 8th grade homeroom when we heard the news — and didn’t completely understand the significance of the event or what it meant for my future as an American adult. I didn’t consider myself politically aware until late high school-early college, and with the views I hold now, I understand why people feel the way they do regarding bin Laden’s death. However, it just creates more questions that everyone will think they have the right answers to. It will just deepen the political divide in this country that is hindering us now more than ever.

Celebrate if you want, but don’t put me on your guest list for any parties you may throw. I’m not convinced you’re celebrating for the right reasons, whatever those may be. I’ll wait until there’s someone whose death warrants a decision.

Apathetically yours.