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The Newfound Sexism of Atheism

The Newfound Sexism of Atheism

Recently, one of my favorite websites, Cracked, posted an article about the various problems with the current wave of atheism. Someone posted a link to it in a Facebook group for atheists that I’m a part of, and the bombardment of usual commentary bullshit began. The author of the article, according to commenters, didn’t understand atheism. Or he wasn’t a real atheist. Or he hasn’t read the work and philosophies of the people he wrote the article to take down. Things of that nature.

Unfortunately, this has been a recurring problem I’ve had with atheism ever since I declared my own atheism back in 2005. Atheism is a single belief: There is no god. Yes, it’s really that easy. You don’t believe in any gods, and you’re therefore not bound to any weird rules about dieting and thought crimes or caught going against a moral which is more common sense and human decency than morality. When I started reaching out to other atheists, though, I ran into one of those odd contradictions that we so frequently see in life. Instead of a group of people devoted to rational thought and discussion, many of the atheists I spoke to were devoted to a weird theocracy of their very own. The author of the Cracked article had a point which I’ve now spent ten years trying to make: Atheism has become enslaved to a hardcore ideology. Hell, prominent atheists are even campaigning for atheists to be renamed “Brights,” and in some places, local atheist organizations are offering de-baptism ceremonies. My mind is boggled and I’m wondering if the Center for Inquiry is going to start offering people the opportunity to visit and pray to a random cloud.

I find it pretty damn incredible that a group of people that prides itself on not having to follow silly religious pageantry is unable to spot the hypocrisy in this. And no, I’m not going to mince words or gussy it up into something pretty in order to hand-wave it: Hypocrisy is exactly what it is. The whole thing about living and letting live apparently only applies if you’ve renounced all beliefs. It’s one thing to talk about rationality and reason and science to a religious person with an open mind who asked and is truly interested. Even if this religious person accepts the logic offered by the atheist, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to renounce their god, and personally, I’m okay with that. If the logical outlets are rejected in favor of mocking and joking the belief system away, then you’ve turned into a missionary, and it’s time for you to break out the crusader sword and smallpox blanket, because you’re just a short step away from that.

My biggest concern about atheism, though, is that it now seems to be turning into exactly the kind of thing I predicted ten years ago: An exclusivist Old Boys’ Club. Atheism is more like a religion than ever, thanks to an apparent influx of so-called mens’ rights “activists.” Richard Dawkins, who first seemed like a real rallying figure for atheists upon his publication of The God Delusion in 2008, stated a few years later that some rapes are better than others, claiming that date rape is better than knifepoint rape and writing off people with whom that statement didn’t sit well by telling them to learn how to think, and blaming women for bringing rape onto themselves. Michael Shermer is a rapist – he got a woman drunk to the point of defenselessness and blackout at a religious conference and forced her to have sex. That’s rape, and all Shermer had to offer was an apology on his website. He should be rotting in a jail cell.

Of course, a lot of people are lining up to defend this sexism. After decrying a lot of the world’s oldest religions as sexist by antiquated beliefs and laws because women always seem to get the short end of the stick, there’s seems to be a disturbing number of atheists who are quite happy with women getting the short end of the stick. Atheists are on the downward spiral when it comes to being inclusive towards those without the Y chromosome.

The irony is that atheism has such a storied history that goes hand-in-hand with feminism. One of the original suffragists, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, was famously critical of religion to such a point that she published a book in 1895 called The Woman’s Bible. Although her critique came off as harsh back in those days, they’re now pretty much universally accepted. American Atheists was founded by Madalyn Murray O’Hair, who fought for the separation of church and state. A civil rights campaigner and female atheist from the 19th Century, Ernestine Rose, got her start by rebelling against her arranged marriage when she was 16. Today we have Malala Yousafzai, who took a bullet to the head for wanting to go to school, an event the atheist community points at as evidence of its moral superiority. One of the blogs I’m connected to is called Skepchick, a community of skeptical bloggers who are women – and one, I should probably mention, that formed its own convention after every other convention it tried to attend and report on got a little too fresh with its writers.

You’d think atheists would have some kind of respect for that, but nope! Atheism has two major problems: One is with feminism itself, and the other is with its staunch refusal to acknowledge its problem with feminism. What we have instead are Mens’ Clubbers like Sam Harris offhandedly talking about womens’ problem with atheism comes from its lack of a nurturing worldview, then defending that by engaging in more sexism, then defending that by attempting the “if it’s true, it ain’t sexist” defense. There’s a certain Youtube commentator, The Amazing Atheist, whose nutjob takes on feminists reel in millions of viewers. I’d love to dismiss him as some outlier, but if you misread the statement “millions of viewers,” well, then you should also understand that most videos on Youtube are lucky to get a few hundred, so The Amazing Atheist seems to have quite a bit of pull. Even Penn Jillette is in on the anti-feminism train, although I can’t rule out giving him a pass because Jillette’s whole career revolves around offending people, and he can be seen defending certain rights for women sometimes.

Atheism is starting to reek of the same bullshit that festers in the whole Gamergate movement. Gamergate is widely claimed – pretty much exclusively by its own members, but widely claimed nonetheless – to have started out of concern for ethics in video game journalism. That’s not true. While it probably does have a few people who are legitimately in it because they’ve been burned by bad reporting, Gamergate gets its jollies by mocking and threatening women who had the nerve to enjoy a hobby once thought strictly to be man’s territory. Now we have a sick form of atheism starting to stink of this same sexist philosophy. Atheism is actually performing a worse disservice, in fact, because so many women who are put off by the outpouring of conservative religious beliefs in the superiority of men look for solace in atheism.

Atheists are spending too much time trying to act as though atheism and feminism are two different things. They’re not. A lot of people have bitched that Cracked, as well as other, more respectable journalism and scholarly sources which have also pointed this out, don’t know what they’re talking about. They only wish they didn’t. And if atheism thinks it can win a battle against feminism for my own soul – or whatever passes for a soul in your personal belief system – well, let me put it this way: I’ve been a feminist for 34 years. I’ve been an atheist for ten, and my belief that women are people served as a major impetus for walking away from two religions because their followers failed to justify their scriptural drivel.

Christmas, Christianity, and Commercialism

Christmas, Christianity, and Commercialism

It’s the most maddening time of the year. Now, don’t get me wrong: I love Christmas. What I can’t stand is this whole Christmas season that leads up to it. It’s really fitting that the popular image of Santa Claus is what we use to symbolize this season. Santa is centuries old, but the jolly fat man dressed in red was popularized by the Coca-Cola corporation, and let’s face it: Christmas is a corporate holiday right down to the very core of its being.

As Jon Stewart said, Christmas has become so large now that it’s engulfing the other holidays, and yet a disturbingly large proportion of people in this country manage to trick themselves into thinking there’s some kind of phantom war on Christmas. Only in America could we possibly get away with this kind of chutzpah. Christmas season even has a kind of official kickstart day of its own now – Black Friday – which comes immediately right after the day we give thanks for the things that go right with our lives. Then we get a solid month and a half of Christmas themes which overrun into November as people physically beat up and trample over each other to grab the hottest new items which some corporations are undoubtedly holding shipments on in order to create a false sense of scarcity.

Then we manage to conjure up the idea that this feeding frenzy is somehow being done in the good name of a man who, if he were around today, never would have been an American. Even if he was born in this country, he probably would have cast off the misnomer of “American.” No matter what the circumstances, it’s extremely difficult for me to imagine Jesus Christ elbowing his way through a line of shoppers in order to grab a new TV and being the first in line of a corporate bait and switch scheme. I CAN, however, imagine Jesus – at least somewhat – buying out a stock of HD television sets and simply giving them away, no questions asked. That vision requires a certain bending of Jesus’s character too, although not nearly as much as Cowboy Jesus does.

Furthermore, Christmas the season has become a kind of go-to attack against the Americans in the country who aren’t Christians, and that’s around 20-25 percent of us at the most wildly liberal estimate. I tend to identify with any one of the various non-religious people in the United States on any given day. Mostly, I call myself either an agnostic or an atheist, depending on how I’m feeling toward religion in general. Those who know me, though, know that I’m incontestably irreligious. I gave up organized religion years ago in a long and bitter fight with my own sense of cognitive dissonance, with my ideals of individual liberty clashing against everything every religious authority in my life had ever told me.

You would think the irony of Christmas commercialism would be a lot more obvious to people claiming to be Christians, but it seems like the people who wear their Christianity on their chests are the ones most oblivious to it. They’ve somehow managed to completely hijack their own holiday while spreading the blame on everyone but them. Which I guess makes sense in its own little way. The current version of Christianity is a religion which is about shifting blame onto someone who didn’t deserve it. Jesus dying for the sins of everyone? Yeah, it’s a pretty idea, but there’s a very sinister undertone to it which liberates its followers of personal responsibility. Believe in Christ and you’re saved no matter what sort of sadistic shit you’re into.

Christianity as introduced was a very radical lifestyle change which had nothing to do with religion. It emphasized the strength of community and the idea that everyone in said community was on equal footing; not equal footing as everyone having a theoretically equal chance to improve their living circumstances, but equal footing as the idea that no one had more power or greater status than another. It’s easy to see why the personal savior version of Christianity caught on – it doesn’t require very much work. Just abstain from – or limit – a few vices and condemn everyone to Hell and you’ve punched your ticket to a heavenly afterlife. Loving your enemies and standing up for the oppressed and forgotten requires a lot of going against human tribalism and accepting the fact that you’ll be defending people polite society would rather forget.

Instead, religion has become a de facto excuse to leave things the way they are. The religion that started as a method of rebelling against the Roman Empire and offering its untouchable low-caste members a way of empowering themselves is now the champion faith of a country which shows a lot of parallels to ancient Rome. And with a growing number of other people also starting to wake up to that fact, Christmas and this alleged war on it have become the rallying cry. People are very literally camping outside of large department stores and beating each other up over artificially-priced stuff a month and a half before Christmas, and yet, there’s a big war against it that no one seems to be waging anywhere I’ve ever lived. The vast majority of the country still claims Christianity as its religion, and most of them don’t even know the Pagan roots of virtually every aspect of our Christmas celebrations, and yet, somehow there’s a war on Christmas. Both the commerce capitol and national capitol of the United States throw fucking tax money at large, prominent, and garish display decorations to Christmas, and there’s somehow a goddamn war!

If you think I’m annoyed, yes, I am, because as an atheist, people keep finding ways to blame me for this war, despite the fact that the 20 million Americans who don’t identify with a religion don’t have any lobbying power. (As opposed to Christians, the only religion-related group that does.)

Yeah, how perfect it is that Christmas is considered the primary holiday.

The First Month at University

The First Month at University

My psychiatry 101 teacher would appreciate the analogy: I feel like I’m stepping into the world without any clothes on. I started my second college go-round at the beginning of this month, and it looks like I’ve survived for now. Still though, its definitely been a very odd adjustment. My body – which is ordinarily one of those perfect wake-up bodies – has been violently rejecting the 5 AM wake-up times on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, so I often find just the right amount of time for a little bit more shut eye on the bus and subway. My textbooks have been slow in the coming and inexcusably expensive. I’ve lost a little bit of step in my normal exercise routines because the University of Buffalo has its own definition of exercise, which is called “Traversing Campus from One Side to the Other.” I’ve been accosted by more Christians than I can wave a copy Percy Shelley’s The Necessity of Atheism at.

In the meantime, my body and brain are both giving me the constant message: Hey, you wanted this, big boy, you’ve fucking got it! Welcome to late teenage hell in a 32-year-old body. Welcome to big league university life.

I like to believe I wasn’t walking into this unprepared. After all, I have a college degree already. That was from a community college, though, and as I stepped up to my first day at UB, I wondered how much different this could possibly be. I believe the popular expression is famous last words. As I stumbled into my first-ever chemistry class, my first reaction was to gape at the massive size of the stadium-seating theater which was going to be doubling as my classroom for some reason. My first thought was dear god, how the hell is anyone able to ask questions in here? As I listened to lecture, it became clear that I wasn’t supposed to ask anything; my duty in chemistry was to sit down, shut up, and write until my wrist snapped off again. My first psychiatry class, I entered through the front of the room completely by accident and stood there blinded like a deer in a headlight, carefully scanning for any open seats. The professor spotted me and told me to just get in the room and sit somewhere. I quickly ran up the stairs, and learned there were more people than seats in the room when I saw at least a dozen other students sitting in the aisle at the top of the stairs. It wasn’t my shining moment, but I put it behind me. The professor apologized for putting me on the spot when I spoke to her after class, and psychiatry 101 actually went on to be my favorite class.

My nutrition class also takes place in a lecture hall, but at least it’s a lecture hall small enough for the professor to hear me if I try to ask a question. Only my math class takes place in a real classroom.

It’s not that I’m not enjoying my classes. Actually, I like all of them. (Even math!) But I wasn’t prepared to deal with the change in college size on a scale like this. The lecture halls at ECC were made to hold only about 150 people, in contrast to the nearly 500 people I share chemistry and psychiatry with. The lecture halls at ECC also managed to be a bit more intimate, and it wasn’t unusual for the professors there to engage in active, back and forth dialogues with the students.

Of course, that could also be because of the subject material I decided to shoulder this time. My degree from ECC is in Communication and Media Arts. Now, I did well at ECC, but that major wasn’t a great challenge to a brainpan which everyone realizes is capable of doing a lot more. Communications dealt with a lot of abstract ideas; basically, stuff which students could – and were in fact encouraged to – endlessly bicker over. Philosophies were on my plate, and I learned about a whole slew of literary genres as electives. Exercise Science, my major at UB, deals with hard data and stuff which is established fact about the human body. After all of a month of classes, well, I can say I’m a little overwhelmed by how impressive these weird vessels we’re stuck living in really are.

Also overwhelming is getting the sense of just how much I’ve changed along the road. I actually want to learn math now. Yes, getting it down is difficult, but damn if you don’t feel like a god once you master it. I know I have a circuit somewhere in my head’s machine which is fully capable of learning it rather easily if the teacher presses the right buttons. Its happened before. When I went to summer school for ninth grade algebra, my teacher found it, and I passed her course with a final grade in the high 80’s. My favorite math teacher ever was in ECC. She hit every right note, and I liked her class so much that I was an active participant in it, regularly trying to give out answers. Every time I missed something, it was always on the tip of the tongue.

Furthermore, who are all these weird creatures who are going to school with me? Did I land on a different planet? Was I sucked through some kind of interdimensional warp? My age and life experiences are causing a rather askew viewpoint, and I’m constantly surprised at the generational gaps. One day, as I sat on the shuttle to North Campus, the radio station was playing the old hit “Freak Like Me” by Adina Howard. I looked around the bus, and realized that if the others there were even alive when that song was being played out, they certainly weren’t old enough to remember it. A couple of weeks later, my psychiatry teacher brought up the Leftorium episode of The Simpsons, and I thought it odd that she had to reference that it was “a show called The Simpsons.” 20 years, ago, it was merely The Simpsons; no qualifier was necessary, because everyone would have known what it was. I like to joke frequently about how I’m old enough to remember when The Simpsons was good, but now it was a little scary to realize that the show – and not just the show, but the very episode she was referring to, which I caught the first time it ever aired – was older than the other students. In the latest class, she made a reference to 9/11 in talking about flashpoint memory and had to ask if the class remembered it.

This is going to be a huge learning experience in every possible way.