To Blog Or Not To Blog

So I haven’t updated in a while. One of the reasons for it is that I’ve been pretty busy and I haven’t been able to make time to blog. The other reason is that I’ve been watching the internet blow up about sexual harassment policies at conferences and I was concerned that the only thing I would be able to write about it would be an endless stream of expletives. I must admit I don’t understand why there has been such backlash against adopting such policies in order to make women feel safe at conferences. I’ve been reading about this in the past few weeks and I have to say that the whole situation doesn’t really make me feel welcome in the atheist/skeptical community. Aren’t we supposed to be the smart ones? The people who are rational? If so, harassment policies at conferences should be a no-brainer. Instead, there has been idiotic suggestions that this meant women wanted to ban flirting and/or hooking up at conferences. How does a rationally thinking person go from implementing a policy to banning flirting? I don’t get it. I’m a woman and given the vitriol I’ve seen directed at the Skepchicks and Freethought Blogs in the past few weeks for merely suggesting adopting policies, I’m not feeling inclined to go to a skeptical/atheist conference anytime soon. Why would I spend a ridiculous amount of money to go to a conference that seems unwilling to make women feel welcome and safe? It doesn’t make you want to get involved with the movement.

I should mention that I like flirting. I enjoy sex. That being said, I think it’s ridiculous to imply that those two statements mean that I should have to be open to sex and flirting at all times, whether or not I am interested or in the mood to engage in either. Believe it or not, some people do go to conferences for other reasons than getting laid. It’s possible they are there to learn something. And yes, they may want to connect and socialize with others that have the same interests, but that does not necessarily translate to an invitation for sex. Those people deserve to have just as fulfilling an experience at conferences than everyone else. Having harassment policies and procedures that are properly communicated and enforced ensures that everyone can have a great experience. If your argument is that my safety and comfort is ruining your experience at conferences, then you’re an asshole. I’m not interested in sleeping with you because that’s not why I would be going to a conference. Move on and find someone who is. If there isn’t, then maybe you should consider that this isn’t the place to try to get laid. Maybe it’s that you’re an asshole and that’s not a turn on. Whatever the reason, your right to get laid doesn’t override my right to not be harassed.

I know we are winning this fight because many conferences have adopted harassment policies and many of the men in the movement have expressed their support for this kind of policy. The problem I have is that it should have never been a fight. I don’t understand why this suggestion caused such a shitstorm. I don’t understand why Rebecca Watson can’t say anything that doesn’t cause a flood of rape threats to be sent her way. You want to know why more women are not attending your events? All this bullshit is why.

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One Step Forward, One Step Back

Proposition 8 was ruled unconstitutional in California. That is absolutely a step in the right direction. I ultimately think the case will be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court and, if the court ends up hearing the case, I hope they will also end up making the right decision.

While watching the rejoicing on Twitter and Google+ about the Prop 8 decision, I was reminded that I had finished reading a heart-wrenching Rolling Stone article by Sabrina Rubin Erdely about a town in Minnesota that’s been driving its gay teens to suicide. Go read it, but be warned it’s an emotional article and it’s difficult to get through. I remember being in high school… kids are cruel. I just don’t remember kids being that cruel. After her friend killed herself, one student transferred schools to attempt to start fresh and escape the bullying and was faced with this:

Her very first day of eighth grade, eight boys crowded around her on the bus home. “Hey, Brittany, I heard your friend Sam shot herself,” one began.

“Did you see her blow her brains out?”

“Did you pull the trigger for her?”

“What did it look like?”

“Was there brain all over the wall?”

“You should do it too. You should go blow your head off.”

Seriously? Who is raising these kids? Who in their right mind, at any age, thinks it’s ok to tell someone they should blow their head off? Has bullying gotten worse than when I was in high school (about fifteen years ago)? Are small towns worse (I went to school in the suburbs of a decent-sized city)? Is the U.S. more polarized about LGBT issues (I’m Canadian)?

What was even more shocking about this story is the inaction from the faculty at any of these schools when kids were bullied. The policy they had in place basically made all the teachers afraid for their jobs if they did anything to come to the bullied teens’ defence.

At the close of the seven-month-long sex-ed review, Anderson and her colleagues wrote a memo to the Anoka-Hennepin school board, concluding, “The majority of parents do not wish to have there [sic] children taught that the gay lifestyle is a normal acceptable alternative.” Surprisingly, the six-member board voted to adopt the measure by a four-to-two majority, even borrowing the memo’s language to fashion the resulting districtwide policy, which pronounced that within the health curriculum, “homosexuality not be taught/addressed as a normal, valid lifestyle.”

The policy became unofficially known as “No Homo Promo” and passed unannounced to parents and unpublished in the policy handbooks; most teachers were told about it by their principals. Teachers say it had a chilling effect and they became concerned about mentioning gays in any context. Discussion of homosexuality gradually disappeared from classes. “If you can’t talk about it in any context, which is how teachers interpret district policies, kids internalize that to mean that being gay must be so shameful and wrong,” says Anoka High School teacher Mary Jo Merrick-Lockett. “And that has created a climate of fear and repression and harassment.”

Nine kids killed themselves in two years in the district. Let that sink in for a minute. The school board decided to stick their heads in the sand and pretend that the bullying wasn’t going on. When teachers heard a kid get called “fag” or “dyke”, they ignored it because the policy said to ignore it.

Once again, the religious right was promoting the idea that it was the kids’ fault for being gay. They could avoid being bullied if they would just not be gay. Who know it was that simple? (In case it’s not obvious, I am being sarcastic here).

I’m always conflicted when these situations are brought up. I think it’s human nature to want to assign blame but I’m never sure who should be blamed for these tragedies. I think the schools and teachers have a responsibility to protect children while they are at school. So a kid should not have to walk the halls of their school and hear discriminatory slurs (whether they be about race, gender, sexual orientation, etc). Faculty should stop that and discipline the kids accordingly with the behaviour. In this day and age though, the bullying extends beyond school into social media or even just in person off school grounds, after hours. The thing is, where are the parents? Before any of you jump down my throat, I don’t mean the parents of the bullied teens. I don’t think it’s possible to know what’s going on in your kid’s head. I think kids that age want to protect their parents to a certain degree. They also don’t want their parents to think that they are weak so they keep quiet. There’s nothing a parent can do in that situation. You can’t read your kid’s mind. But what about the parents of the bullies? Why aren’t these parents raising their kids better? Why are they not teaching their kids that it’s not ok to treat others like pond scum?

The answer of course is that the parents are sometimes just as bad as the kids. They are teaching their kids that it’s ok to treat gays and lesbians this way. This is where the disconnect happens for me. I’ve never understood how people can treat other people in such a disgusting manner because of something that is beyond that other person’s control.  How can mistreating someone like that be considered acceptable. Religious people constantly ask how atheists can possibly be moral if they don’t have god and religion to guide them but a situation likes this makes me wonder what their definition of morality is. Their religion is their excuse to mistreat people.

The 9th Circuit Court took a step forward when they made the ruling on Prop 8. Unfortunately, religion keeps society walking backwards. We should not stand for that.

Hat tip to PZ Myers for the Rolling Stone article.

Don’t Trust In God

For all those who ask “What’s the harm in religion?”, you have to watch this YouTube video. It’s two hours long, but completely worth your time. It’s a series of interviews with religious people (mostly christians) and atheists about religion. I was particularly appalled by the portion of the film where the interviewer asked people if they would kill someone, their own child possibly, if god asked them to. Way too many of them said yes. When asked how they would know it was god, most answers were along the lines of they would just know. Wow. Just wow.

I always find it surprising that christians constantly say that we should be tolerant of their beliefs and accommodating to them. Yet they are never inclined to be accommodating to any other view but their own. How can they be that blind to their own hypocrisy? It’s also hilarious that many of the christians make fun of the beliefs of other religions. They think that other peoples’ beliefs are far-fetched and stupid but their beliefs are what? Completely rational? Give me a break.

I am grateful the filmmaker interspersed the movie with interviews of atheists and humanists. It was the only thing that prevented my head from blowing up.

Also, homosexuality is worse than slavery because the bible says so.

The stupid. It hurts.

Via The Friendly Atheist

Atheist Temple

I’m not sure I understand the thinking behind the idea of having atheist temples. I’ve always found that aspect of religion to be a colossal waste of money. I never understood how the catholic church could spend millions of dollars on the vatican instead of taking that money to feed the poor (something they say they are supposed to do anyway). I think we have much better ways to spend that kind of money also. Education, after-school programs, soup kitchens, etc. What’s the purpose of the temple anyway? Do you actually think that atheists will flock to it? I don’t. What would be the purpose of going? So it’s not like I think this will be a good way to generate revenue. It’s just a money pit and a terrible idea. I hope they don’t go through with it.

Atheist Billboards Need Better Design

I know everyone else and their cousin has commented about these billboards but I just can’t help myself. They couldn’t make them more attractive? The optimist in me thinks that they may have done this on purpose because they thought it would attract even more attention and get people talking about the billboards. I’m not sure it’s necessary. Based on what I’ve been reading about reactions to atheist billboards all year, ANY atheist billboard will get talked about in the community. So maybe we could make an effort to make them a bit more attractive? I want people’s eyes to be drawn to these billboards. I look at these and the first thing I want to do is turn away, not read the message.

via Friendly Atheist

Why I’m An Atheist

PZ Myers has been putting up one post a day that his readers send him explaining why they are atheist. Since I have my own blog, I thought I would borrow his idea and post my own road to atheism here. I think it makes a good first post and is a good way to introduce myself a bit more.

My parents split up when I was pretty young and I spent most of my childhood primarily living with my mother. She grew up in a Catholic home. Her parents were both deeply religious and I still remember going to church with my grandmother when I spent summers there in my youth. My mother was less religious than her parents but she did have me baptized (I think she believed then and she thought it was important) and I went through with my First Communion (I was six years old by then; still too young to have an opinion of my own about a god). I don’t remember exactly when it happened, but by the time I reached ten, I no longer thought god existed. I told my mother I did not want to do my Confirmation, since I thought that would be hypocritical. To her credit, she did not force me to go through with it. In retrospect, I think my mother may have been having doubts of her own about god. Whenever she may have lost her faith, my mother never said anything to me until after her mother died. I think my mother wanted to spare her feelings given that my grandmother was deeply religious.

Like I said, I do not remember when I realized that the idea of god and religion was silly. I didn’t come to the realization after long and deep thought. I was a kid. I just realized that the stories I had been reading from the Bible made absolutely no sense. I just could not get over the fact that an all-powerful being would just let people suffer and allow wars to go on. And that was it. No more god and religion. I stopped spending my summers at my grandmother’s at this point. I don’t think it was a result of my conversion to atheism, but more of a logistical issue. I had siblings that were old enough to babysit at this point and my mother liked having me home for the summer. My mother never went to church so it’s not like it was a fight to avoid going.

My father was even less of a problem. Even though my primary home was with my mother, I still spent quite a bit of time with my father as a kid. I don’t recall explicitly discussing religion with him but I’m pretty certain he was an atheist by the time I was born. I actually credit my father with my eventual skepticism. I didn’t always self-identify as a skeptic but I’m pretty sure I’ve been one since a fairly young age. My father was a big fan of Carl Sagan and I remember watching Cosmos with him many times. We were at the Montreal Planetarium almost every weekend to take in a show or just see the exhibit. He encouraged my interest in science and I think that learning about scientific inquiry and thinking is what made me a skeptic.

I’m grateful to both my parents for not indoctrinating me in religious bullshit. It prevented me from wasting years on religion.