Monday, August 29, 2011

Richard Dawkins. I am not a fan.

It is almost heresy to call oneself an atheist and to not think highly of Richard Dawkins. He is arguably one of if not the most famous atheist in the world, his book The God Delusion is widely known and widely read. He widely respected both in his field of biology and as a writer both on science an atheist topics. Yet for all this, I am not a fan.

Dawkins chooses a aggressive stance when he argues his point. He has openly and forcefully stated that he believes that ridicule is an important part of his arsenal. He is well known for standing firmly against those with whom he does not agree, for his sharp tongue, and for his devastating wit.

You know what another word is that describes a man who ridicules people he doesn't agree with is? Asshole.

Yeah, Dawkins is really intelligent and a good speaker and writer and all of that. But he's an asshole, and that's not how I roll. The reason I think of PZ Myers and Greta Christina as the best leaders of the atheist movement is because they be firm and forceful without being needlessly insulting. Dawkins, in all that I have seen, can't. In fact, I think he likes being an asshole, and his actions do seem to prove just that, because his targets include his allies.

Phil Plait famously said don't be a dick. The message got two basic kinds of responses: "that makes sense" and "I like being a dick/being a dick is useful". In the first four minutes or so of this video Dawkins makes it clear that ridicule is more important to him than diplomacy and that he doesn't even think that ridicule will work on the person being ridiculed. I'm not saying I endorse everything Phil Plait says, but, when comparing him to Dawkins, I'd much rather listen to what Phil says.

I really hate to bring up Elevatorgate, I really do, but it's important to my point. Rebecca Watson said "guys, don't do that." Dawkins replied thusly. He ridiculed her for saying "guys, don't do that." This is a woman with whom he had been on stage with before and who was, theoretically, an ally and perhaps even a friend.

This is where the argument for ridicule falls apart. When you ridicule people who are your allies, who see you as a role model, you make a grievous error. You are shooting yourself in the foot. I almost began to give Dawkins the benefit of the doubt before this incident, almost seeing his point if from a more relaxed perspective, but this proved that listening to Dawkins is a mistake. He's an asshole because he doesn't care who he is ridiculing. When I ridicule someone I want it to be someone worthy of it, not a friend, not an ally. I'll pick my targets carefully thank you.

I've heard the argument that there's no one to replace Dawkins as the so-called "leader" of the atheist movement so we're stuck with him. I've heard that Dawkins is the past, that he and the other horsemen got us to this point and now we need to leave him behind. I don't care either way. Dawkins is famous for being an asshole atheist. If that still works for him, good for him. But as far as I'm concerned, he's not worth listening to. When I get into conversations with theists and they point out that Dawkins is an asshole and I'm all like, "I totally agree with you", that gets me points. Then they listen to what I'm saying more closely because we have a common dislike of the man. Who is more likely to change hearts and minds then? An asshole or someone with whom you can find common ground?

Dawkins is really one thing to me now: an example of what not to do.

Atheist inspiration

There were a number of factors that led me to atheism, but I want to talk specifically about the people who helped me to make that choice. None of them were family or friends; they were bloggers, youtubers, and musicians. I'm not sure I remember the exact timeline, but I have enough details to explain. It all started with the Skeptic's Dictionary and significant free time at work. I read the whole thing, from A to Z. Somewhere in there I found a link that led me either directly or indirectly to my first inspiration Pharyngula, which I started to read regularly.

PZ Myers was an inspiration in that he was the first atheist I found whose writing I liked. Unlike some of the other writers with whom I knew atheism was involved, PZ was a big softie. I liked his writing style and how approachable he seemed. I learned from him that I could be firmly against religion while still not being an asshole. Through PZ I learned about all of the other atheists to follow.

Greydon Square was my first black atheist and arguably one of the most convincing atheists as well. I found out about him through comments somewhere, and after looking into his music I downloaded The Kardashev Scale. I was hooked immediately. The passion and anger on the album were compelling. I've been following him ever since.

Greta Christina's blog, specifically her atheists and anger post really got to me. She made her point eloquently and forcefully. I couldn't argue with her on almost any point, and I was amazed at the sheer length of her article. She is one of the calmest and wisest voices in the atheist world but she can get just as angry as anyone else.

Last and certainly not least, AronRa and his Foundational Falsehoods of Creationism were a huge influence. I don't know what it is about AronRa, but his voice is so compelling and what he says so calmly hits like a ton of bricks. He doesn't need to talk often, but when he does it's very often worth saying.

If you want my four horsemen, these are them. Or, more accurately, these are the correct four horsemen of the apocalypse.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Dealing with the death of my grandmother

My grandmother never knew I was an atheist, and I'm glad of it. She was not a person I particularly enjoyed or respected. She was a racist, sexist, generally bigoted person. Had I told her I was an atheist, I'm certain she'd never have spoken to me again or spent her time trying to convince me I was wrong and to convert. Despite this, she was my grandmother, so I did what I could to interact with her in peace, biting my tongue when necessary.

Recently she died and I went to her funeral because that's just what you do. The funeral was Catholic. I'm sure atheists right now are rolling their eyes because they know what's coming. Before I realized I was an atheist I just found Catholic masses boring and at times aggravating. Now I see them for what they truly are: disgusting. I, silly atheist, thought that funerals were intended to bring comfort to the bereaved. Well, the only thing I got from that funeral was angry.

We weren't told we were gathered together in honor of my late grandmother, we were told we were gathered in faith and in Christ's name. Repeatedly. I think the priest mentioned my grandmother by name or indirectly maybe three times. He mentioned Christ enough times for me to lose track and that we were gathered in faith a similar number of times. But that's not the worst part. The gospel story they told was the story of Lazarus, you know, the person Jesus raised from the dead? It was implied that if we prayed hard enough we could raise my grandmother from the dead. It was also implied that if we didn't pray hard enough that she would burn in hell for eternity.

At. Her. Funeral.

Wow, suddenly I'm the enemy in the room since I'm not, you know, praying. I'm going to be responsible for my grandmother's eternal damnation by being present! But it wasn't just me that was unacceptable, but any person that didn't claim faith in Christ! And of course, not even only that, but any person who wasn't Catholic was pretty much told, you aren't welcome either. At least I wasn't alone in my rejected and denigrated status. So, as far as I can tell, the Catholic opinion on funerals is that Catholics should be comforted and everyone else can fuck off.

To me the biggest insult to my grandmother was that she was like a side show; the mass was the big deal, she was just kind of an convenient way to get a bunch of grieving people in one place to rub some Catholicism in their faces. I wanted to walk out. I wanted to make a scene, to argue with the priest, to protest the threats of hell. But I didn't. I didn't because the funeral wasn't for me; it was for my father, my uncle, my cousins, the Catholics who were grieving. Though it was repellant to me, this was how they wanted to say goodbye. So I sat there, gritted my teeth, and didn't move but to roll my eyes.

After the funeral my father thanked the priest; I considered shouting at the priest but continued to be quiet. I hoped that was the end of it. But, when we finally got to the grave, the priest came back one more time to mention my grandmother once, Christ and faith several times, and to put my teeth on edge again. The only part that gave me any peace was when the priest shut the fuck up and I put a flower on my grandmother's coffin and said goodbye.

Funerals are supposed to be sad affairs, and that I expected. I didn't expect the seething anger on my part or the utter disdain from the priest for any who weren't Catholic. Still further aggravating was that the Catholics seemed to think that it was a reasonable ceremony and none of the other non Catholics minded it enough to say anything.

I don't know no what I'm supposed to do about this. I don't know that there's anything I can do about it. For so much as mentioning the fact that I was uncomfortable I was given the "you shouldn't talk about that" comment already. The person whom I most want to tell this to is my father and I don't want to create any tension for him right now as he's just lost his mother.

I hate this. I hate feeling helpless. I want to do something, but I've nothing to do.

Lesson 1: Catholics don't give a shit about comforting anyone at a funeral who isn't a Catholic.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Learning to be an Atheist

I only recently learned that I was an atheist. I had been reading Pharyngula and other such blogs for some time, but I never called myself an atheist. It was Aron Ra's Foundational Falsehoods of Creationism that got me watching his videos, and it was his appearance on the Atheist Experience that ultimately got the point across to me that I was actually an atheist and had been for a very long time. I'm not new to the idea of atheism, but actually identifying myself as one, that I am new to. This is going to be my experiences as an atheist as I learn.

Honestly, I don't know how much love this particular blog will get, as I'm not exactly an atheist activist, but who cares. This blog is for me. The very act of writing helps me to think, and finding the right words to explain how I feel sometimes shows me that I'm thinking wrong. This is helpful. I'll try not to say too many stupid things, but this is a blog. They're made for saying stupid things.