Archive | February, 2013

r/atheism is full of 12 year olds.

25 Feb

I love reddit. I’m addicted to reddit. It’s one of the first sites I check in the morning and throughout the day. It has a lot of really amazing communities on there with great and helpful people. That said, r/atheism is a pile of shit.

I’ve previously defended r/atheism as a necessary community, despite all that goes on there. It’s important for a minority to have a “minority space” apart from the general public space where they can exist freely. Think of it as a sanctuary. (Pun intended) Other people on reddit might lament r/atheism’s prominence, but reddit is not a mirror of American society where atheists are in the minority.

Despite the need for a place like r/atheism, that place is still shit. Long ago I unsubscribed as it was nothing but memes and people posting “facebook pwnage” wherein they post pictures of them alienating and offending their religious friends. Thoughtful discussion is nowhere to be found. Just anger, obnoxious pictures, and circle-jerk cheer-leading.

I made the mistake of going on there and asking a research question for my book. I wanted to see what other atheists were interested in when they began to be interested in religion and atheism. I was trying to better focus on my audicence and what I should cover in the book.

Instead my post was instantly downvoted into the ground. If you don’t go on reddit, there are “upvotes” and “downvotes.” People are supposed to use upvotes to signal that they think something is a good submission, regardless if they agree or not, and downvotes to signal that they think something is a poor submission. In reality people just use it as an agree/disagree button. You might type up a well reasoned response to something, but people will still downvote you if they disagree. There’s often a brutish tribal aspect to it that we refer to “the hive mind.”

I thought perhaps someone had set up a downvote bot against my account (something that automatically downvotes everything you post) so I erased my original post and posted again under another account. That got downvoted into the ground too and someone asked me

“why do you keep posting these fucking stupid questions then deleting them?”

To which I responded about the downvote bot. I got in reply

“no, you fuck.

you keep ignoring everyone’s answers to you and you keep trying to frame atheism as a ‘belief’ similar to religion.

your motives are transparent, you keep on putting forth ‘research’ questions that frame atheism as a belief system then you ignore the answers except to try and argue that atheism is a belief system like religion.

you are amongst sharp people here. stop acting the fool.”

Nobody had answered my question yet and I was automatically assumed to be some theist troll. The poster instantly displayed his/her insecurity by prescribing me with intentions that had nothing to do with my post. If I didn’t follow the hive mind and just post stupid pictures, I was seen to be a troll and a threat to be harassed.

Seriously, fuck that place.

 

UPDATE: So apparently myself and 32,000 other people also said fuck that place and there’s a subreddit r/trueatheism. The people there are really nice and interested in actually having discussions as opposed to means and circle-jerk bullshit.

I’m going to try and write a book.

24 Feb

A few months ago I decided to try and make a set of “atheist flashcards” to help other atheists increase their general knowledge of religion and better prepare for any debate encounters they might have. In that project I focused on memorizing common bible verses, common arguments for the existence of god, and just general religious trivia.

My first attempt was a disaster. I made the flashcards to be printed out on paper and then attempted to piggy back my templates onto a third party flashcard application for smart phones. The user experience was abysmal. After getting some helpful input from people who bought my flash cards, I decided to try and make a stand alone smart-phone application. I spent the next month to two months of my life focused on writing this application. I had no coding experience and no idea about writing apps. I stumbled upon PhoneGap, a site that lets you drag and drop items in a graphical interface to build an application. This application could then be ported onto any smart phone. The downside (that I realized only after spending a month on this app) was that PhoneGap doesn’t create a finished stand alone program. It creates a “web app”. It looks and acts like a stand alone app for a smart-phone, but it’s not. It’s actually a cleverly disguised webpage. As such, you need a constant internet connection to use it. I got as far as having a working app on my phone, but the disappointment of not having a stand alone app after all that work (and the daunting task of trying to learn to program) combined with life events to kind of side-tracked me after that point.

It was while working on that phone app that my project began to change. It was no longer about just creating a smart-phone version of debate flashcards. I realized that what I was working on had the potential to be something much more. There was also just so much information that I was having trouble fitting into a flash card format. Furthermore, the flashcards seemed kind of arbitrary given that they weren’t tied to anything. Usually when one creates flashcards it’s because they’ve read or studied something and are making the flashcards based off of what they’ve studied. Well without something to study, there was no way anyone could get the flashcards right the first time through. The only way to begin to get the flashcards right would be to get them wrong over and over again.

Well fast forward a few months till now and I’ve started thinking about picking up the project again. I started watching more courses on how to program specifically for smart-phones and pulled some more books out of the library. It was at this time that my girlfriend suggested that perhaps an ebook would be a better format for the information I was trying to convey. I could always follow up with flashcards if I really wanted to. This got me really excited. I could do an ebook. I could get all my information across much more easily that way, and I wouldn’t necessarily have to learn to program an app.

The biggest problem I’m having right at the moment is that I don’t know what the focus of the book should be. I’m not entirely clear on what I’m trying to accomplish, and what the scope should be. I’m also not entirely sure of my target audience.

Originally I thought I would focus on orienting “new” atheists (or anyone for that matter) to the atheist community/movement/whatever. Whenever anyone becomes interested in something for which there is a community, there’s always this difficult period of orienting one’s self and discovering who’s who, what’s what, and what the current issues are and where the community is headed.  At the time I felt really connected to and current with the atheist community and figured I could use this in my project. However, it was a few months after I started this project that I decided to stop listening to the news and politics because I was just in a constant state of rage. Incidentally, I stopped really listening to atheist podcasts too since many of them talk about infuriating news reports relating to atheism. I kind of dropped out of the community then. I hadn’t done anything since the Reason Rally, and I stopped going to my local atheist meetups. I feel like I’m really out of touch with what’s going on in the community at the moment, and that kind of scares me when trying to write this book. So maybe orienting people in the community shouldn’t be my main focus.

Instead I think I’m going to try and orient them to religion and atheism in general. Sure I’ll point them to community things, but my main focus is going to be closer to the original intent of the debate flashcards, education.

I would like to direct my book at people who either just left a faith, or who have always been non-religious, but never took an interest until now. I would like to give them a good foundation of things they should know to in order to be a well rounded person when it comes to religion. I’m going to expand on the topics in my debate flashcards and cover things like general religious terminology, the well reasoned argument, logical fallacies and argumentation structure, the scientific method, a general overview of philosophy and the various fields, comparative religions including how the religions are structured, core tenets and beliefs, sacred texts and their history/characters/themes, and religion in a modern governmental/societal context. (Just to name a few)

The biggest issue I’ve run into so far is trying to keep the right scope. There are volumes and volumes of books written about everything I just mentioned. I’ve really got to fight the researcher in me that wants to write 20-30 page term papers on each subject. I’d never get my book done that way. I need to force myself to be general. This book is meant to orient people, to make them aware of things they might not be aware of, and to point them in the right direction if something in particular interests them. At the same time I’m worried about making it too general. I want to make something of value, something I won’t feel wrong asking people to pay for.

The Skeptic’s Annotated Bible is here!!!

23 Feb

A few years ago I ran across this site. The Skeptic’s Annotated Bible by Steve Wells is an amazing resource.  Steve took the time to go through and annotate the entire bible from a skeptic’s point of view. Ever wish you could instantly find instances of injustice, cruelty/violence, contradictions, misogyny, etc in the “good” book? Well Steve’s tagged every single verse in the entire bible with a searchable tag and commentary. It was not long after finding that site that I e-mailed Steve and asked if there was a physical copy of the book that I could by. At the time there wasn’t, but a few months ago he e-mailed me again to say that one was in the works. Well guess what, I finally got my copy this weekend! Steve even went ahead and signed it too! This thing is amazing! It has quick reference verses of interest in the front and back, along with commentary the whole way through. Man I wish I had this thing in my comparative religion’s class back in college!

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And the atheist stereotypes continue.

11 Feb

My boss often has CNN on a monitor playing throughout the day at work. Well I’m sitting at my desk and suddenly I hear a familiar voice. I look over and The Amazing Atheist is on CNN. “How the hell did TJ get on the news?” I asked. My boss and his friend just laughed. They didn’t know who he was, and perhaps I shouldn’t have opened my mouth and given it away that I did.

CNN was having a segment on “Atheism in America.” TJ was their atheist, and then they had a panel of hostile guests there to rebuke the atheist. After the first guest started going on about how much he respects the soon to be ex pope for fighting against secularism and radical Islam, I put on some jazz and turned up my headphones.

Listening to that fake discussion with TJ as the representative of all atheists was just going to make me rage. I also really don’t want to have the religious discussion with my coworkers. I’ve long since realized it’s not productive to try and have conversations with them on religion, the intricacies of foreign politics, or anything for that matter. They’ve never really been outside of South Carolina and they get all their news from CNN and Fox.

Anyways, so CNN picks the most combative, scruffy looking atheist they could find, put him in front of a camera and then has a panel of respectable looking, family loving, wholesome adults attack him and how his views are a danger to your children. It’s almost like attacking a strawman. Then CNN’s viewers just eat it up.

I feel the same way about anarchism. People’s mental image of an anarchist is probably some punk kid with a bandana over his face, throwing rocks at storefront windows and just “making things shit for the hell of it.”

Either way, I’m tired of having to live with these stereotypes. The sad thing is that I feel the public would be hostile even if we did have some “respectable, family loving, wholesome adult” person to represent us. The news agencies would most certainly frame the discussion in a negative light for the atheist or anarchist. You could have someone like Daniel Dennet or Noam Chomsky on as the representative and they’d still be hostile.

There’s really just this temptation to embrace the stereotypes out of exhaustion of having to fight them, but that’s not productive.  The only way it gets better is to continue to fight them over and over again. It’s a war of attrition. That’s the only way anyone gains acceptance in a hostile environment. Ex. Black pilots in WWII or women in the workplace.

Still sucks though.

And justice for all…

8 Feb
I wonder how this will fit into the gun violence debate? (It won’t because it’s socially acceptable violence since it’s being perpetrated by the “approved” shooters)

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See all those bullet holes in the back of that truck? The LAPD pulled up behind this car and just started shooting. The victims in the car were two women delivering morning papers. Both have been rushed to the hospital. The police gave no warning and did not identify themselves as police. For all the women knew, assuming they had a second to think when the bullets started ripping through the back of their car and their bodies, this could have well been a gang shooting.

But it wasn’t an underground gang of armed thugs, it was the socially approved kind. The “official” users of violence and guns. These women were not the only victims that day. The LAPD did the same thing to another man driving a similar vehicle. They were hunting people down and opening fire, without warning, without checking first, and endangering neighborhoods. Local news outlets warned people to stay out of blue pickup trucks because the police were shooting first and asking questions later.

Think about that for a moment. People were told to stay off the streets because the police, their “protectors” would summarily execute them on site without notice, cause, or trial.

Before we get to the “why” they did this, I want to make something clear. “Why” is really a secondary issue here. There is no excuse for police to ambush people and start shooting them. It doesn’t matter what the “why” is. The “why” can only be used as an attempt to excuse the inexcusable. Nonetheless, “why” will be used as an excuse by everyone from the police officers to the apologists who can’t comprehend the idea that their police could do anything so horrible. To the apologists, the police will always be given the benefit of the doubt. They are their protectors after all, the “good guys.”

There will be no reasonable consequences for the attempted murders.

When the police officers tried to murder the occupants of this vehicle, and the other one they shot up, they were not acting as police officers. They were acting as vigilante thugs. Despite this, they will not be prosecuted as vigilante thugs. They will be shielded and protected by the powerful institution they belong to.  Their punishment will be administrative leave with pay. Paid vacation.

Why? The law is applied differently to different people.

We are not all equal before the law. That is a naive myth, a comforting lie we like to tell ourselves. People in positions of power and/or fame are treated differently than the average citizen. The worst part? For the most part, people are ok with this. It’s expected that powerful people are treated differently. Bush and Cheney will never be tried for war crimes, lying to the American public, and illegally spying on our own citizens. Obama will never be punished for continuing and expanding upon those exact same crimes. There will be no real punishment for the BP executives responsible for the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf. Not a single wall-street executive or banker will be prosecuted for crashing the economy and destroying the lives of millions. There will be no punishment for the Catholic church that systematically enabled and protected child rapists. Likewise, there will be no punishment for these police officers.

There is no justice for the powerful, only punishment for the powerless.

Sure you might point out this case or that, but that does not change the overwhelming trend of injustice and corruption in American society. Things have always been this way. Things will always be this way. You can’t change it. You can’t ask the powerful to punish themselves; likewise, you can’t appeal to them to police themselves.

This is the only way the powerful experience justice:

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Sic semper tyrannis. The only time the powerful experience justice for crimes like murder, extortion, torture, corruption, persecution, destroying the economy, etc., is when their citizens fall upon them and lynch them.

No doubt this is probably unsettling to you, but think about it. What is usually the worst that happens to these people entrusted with so much power and privilege?

They lose their job. Whoopie fuckin do.

Could you imagine committing a crime and the worst thing that happens to you is that you lose your job? To an average person, losing their job is pretty terrible because they lose their income. But we’re not talking about average people, we’re talking about the powerful. How many poor powerful people are there? None. So what punishment, what suffering do they endure as a result of losing their job? Only their ego suffers.

How is that fair? How is that justice?

You know what would be fair? What would be justice? If the punishment fit the crime.

Indeed this is (supposedly) the standard to which we hold all other individuals in society, but the powerful get a fee pass. If society entrusts you with extraordinary power, privilege, authority, and responsibility, you should face extraordinary punishment whenever you misuse and abuse that trust. I’m talking life in prison without parole or the death penalty.

I imagine some people might object to having an equal standard for both the powerful and the powerless. I imagine the knee-jerk reaction to the thought of life in prison or the death penalty for our leaders, protectors, priests, and executives might be “no, that’s not fair. That’s not how things work.” Yet if you think about it, it is fair and it is how things should work. I believe this immediate gut instinct against equality and justice is the result of societal conditioning. Things don’t currently work like this and so to consider the opposite is alien and strange.

All I am asking for is equality under the law. If you commit murder, you go to jail. If you rob a bank, you go to jail. If cause the death of thousands, you should go to jail. If you rob a country, you should go to jail.

“But GP! what if doing these things are part of their jobs?” I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about doing illegal things. If a police officer pulls over a car and the occupant starts shooting and the cop shoots back in self defense, that’s one thing. These cops ambush two women in a truck and shot them up. If you believe someone is a terrorist and plans to kill innocent people, so you gather evidence, go through due process, have a trial, and convict them based on that strong evidence, then you kill them, that’s one thing. If you just decide, with little or no evidence, no due process, no trial, and no transparency that you’re just going to drone strike someone, that’s another.

These police officers should be tried for attempted murder, but they won’t. They should get the same sentence you or I would get if we shot up two people in a truck, but they won’t.  Equality and justice for the powerful and those protected by the powerful are myths. Punishment and consequences are for us peasants.

PS. I never got to the irrelevant reason “why” the police attempted to murder the people in that car. It’s because they’re on a manhunt for an ex-military, ex-cop who’s hunting them down after being fired for fighting, of all things, police violence and corruption.