Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Irrational reactions to clothes shopping

I hate clothes shopping. When it comes to my list of Failures at Being a Woman, this probably ranks at number one. I loathe shopping for clothes so much that I will literally put it off for a year or more, continuously coming up with new excuses not to go. Even when I've mustered up the strength to go to the mall, I usually only last an hour or so before giving up and leaving.

Why the hatred? To me it's just one big trip into poor body image land. Even when I was younger I hated it. I was 5'9" at age 11, and let me tell you, no pants fit freakishly tall girls. Even "long" juniors pants were too short, and grown-up jeans looked like clown pants on my hips since I hadn't filled out yet - a 11 year old girl look more like a ruler than an hour glass. Thankfully I've since developed a womanly figure, and finding pants isn't such a problem.

But if it's not one thing, it's another: now I have boobs. I know, I shouldn't look a gift horse in the mouth, right? But finding clothes as a D cup is a pain the ass. One, it happened fairly suddenly so I had to get a new wardrobe - five years as a B, then wham! D cup. Old shirts don't fit, at least not comfortably. And you'd think in a country where the average cup size is a C that I wouldn't have such issues, but I feel like Goldilocks. Mediums are too small, with it fitting around my abdomen but my boobs feeling like they're going to explode out ala Superman or the Hulk (or literally doing so if it's a button up shirt)*. Larges fit my chest, but are like a tent around the rest of my body. Is it so much to ask for clothing for curvy girls? You'd think that in a society which is obsessed with big boobs, we'd give them a little more respect.

Even though these seem like fairly practical gripes, I'll admit most of my aversion is irrational. Not being able to find clothes that fit makes me feel inadequate. I can look in the mirror and feel attractive, I can have others tell me I'm attractive**, but the moment I'm in that changing room, society's opinion is weighing in. I know it's stupid to care about the standards of the fashion industry or just society in general, but it's hard when you're immersed in it. I'm below the average weight and pant size of an American woman, yet if you use models and actresses (women we constantly see) as a standard I look like a freaking elephant.

The worst part is that if something seems fashionable, trendy, or cute, I feel like I'm not allowed to wear it. I feel self conscious wearing nice things because it seems totally out of character for me, like I'm only supposed to wear boring things that will just make me blend into the background. I'm not sure if I can even explain the feeling other than "You're not one of those pretty girly girls, so just throw on a t shirt and jeans." The idea of getting dolled up for a night out - doing something other than just brushing my hair, putting on any makeup, donning a cute little dress - is just absolutely alien to me. I'm not judging women who do do that - I just feel like I missed out on the Woman Card that gave me clearance to do such things.

Are there others who feel this way, or am unique in my insanity? I hate being so irrational about my appearance mainly because I know it's irrational. That's the hard part about being a skeptic. It's one thing to believe stupid things, but it really stings to know you're being stupid.

*And the fanboys chant, "Go with the mediums!"
**The point of this post is not to get pity compliments. Please do not regale me with "Well I think you're hot"s to make me feel better. Just pondering this line of thinking.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Blag Hag: A Year in Review

It's December, which means every blog is somewhat required to pump out Top Ten lists looking back at the past year. I feel a bit haughty doing one about myself, seeing as this blog didn't even exist for all of 2009 - but a couple of you guys requested it, so here you go. This also may be a nice little review for some of my newer readers who haven't dug through all of my archived posts (I don't blame you!). Here are my top 10 posts, determined by an unscientific mash up of my personal opinion and Google Analytics.

10. Comic (amazed this didn't get me lynched)

9. Oh noes, atheists are taking over teh internets!!11!one!!

8. Darwin finds the best evidence against his theory (comic)

7. Purdue professor: Gays wasting our money on AIDS research

6. Natural Sexuality

5. Creation Museum Review: Start at part 1

4. Book Review: The Professor and the Dominatrix

3. You know what else is an abomination, Maine? Lobster

2. Anti-porn event - emotional appeals and dangerous information

1. What atheists wish would happen at the Creation Museum

Is there a favorite post of yours thank you think belongs in the top ten?

Saturday, December 26, 2009

The joys of parents learning science

We're always hearing stories about kids making skeptical insights or getting interested in science. They're exciting because these kids are our future, and maybe we see a bit of our nerdy selves in them. I don't have kids, but I still get excited about something similar - parents learning science.

My parents have always been very pro-science. They always encouraged me in my science classes and Science Olympiad, and were elated when I decided to major in genetics. However, they're not particularly science oriented. My dad was a history and special ed teacher, and my mom was an art teacher. My dad is into politics and sports, and my mom is obsessed with decorating and traveling. They treat science how rational people should - scientists are experts in a certain area, and even though my parents don't personally understand the topics, they put their faith in scientists. It's no different than putting faith in a mechanic or a pilot - everyone has their specialty, and we can't know everything. They don't believe that evolution and global warming are just giant conspiracies precisely orchestrated by hundreds and hundreds of evil scientists. Just because they personally don't have the background to interpret the data doesn't render it false (if only creationists could understand this simple concept).

We're all intelligent, but in different areas - and sometimes that causes problems. The more I study biology, the less in common we have to talk about when I come home. Usually conversations consist of my dad rambling about some history book he's reading and me trying to keep my eyes from glazing over. But this time I had a plan. I brought home Why Evolution is True by Jerry Coyne (who also has an excellent blog). My dad will read science books if given them (he loved Guns, Germs, and Steel and Hot, Flat, and Crowded), and I figured this time I can kill two birds with one stone: Get my dad to learn more about my interests, and get him to ramble about something I'm actually interested in.

Success!

It's only been a day and he's halfway done. He says he loves it and that it does a great job of explaining concepts to a non-scientist. He's keeping a little notepad nearby so he can write down especially awesome facts to share with me, or questions to ask me so I can clarify. There's just something really cool about my dad running up and ranting, suddenly realizing the frustrating creationist logic I have to constantly deal with.

Dad: How do people deal with the fact that 99% of all species that have existed are extinct? Why would God design things to all die? That doesn't seem very intelligent to me.
Me: God works in mysterious ways *wink*

Dad: We have fossils! What more proof do they need?
Me: Satan buried them there to test your faith. That or the scientists made it all up.

Dad: Now he's talking about examples of unintelligent design. Did you know women have painful childbirth because we evolved from four legged ancestors?
Me: I thought it was because God was punishing Eve.

Playing the devil's advocate is fun. My dad knows I'm an atheist, and he's not religious at all either, so it's all for laughs. But it's great seeing him react to all the religious "arguments" that I have heard people seriously make. Not only that, but it mirrors how my dad instilled good skeptical thinking in me. I'd often ask questions (How did they get the squirrels to talk in that commercial? It has to be a computer) and he would reply with a ridiculous answer (Squirrels just talk when you're not looking). I would then go about explaining why that was silly, and logical thinking was developed!

I look forward to his future comments and questions as he finishes the book. Then my mom is going to take a crack at it! Soon the whole family will be well-read evolutionists, mwahaha!

Chicago Atheist Meetup!

Are you in the Chicagoland area? Do you want to have an awesome time eating, drinking*, and being merry with some pretty cool freethinkers? Look no further:

Date: Saturday, January 2
Time: 7:00 PM
Where: Palos Hills Village Club
9750 S Roberts Rd
Palos Hills, IL 60465-1470
http://www.palosvillagepub.com/
Featuring: Hemant of Friendly Atheist, GodlessGirl, and Jen of Blag Hag!

What do you have to do to partake in such activities? Why, just show up! And, well, pay for your own food and drinks - sorry, we're not rich, people. Just look for one of our smiling faces in the pub and come grab a seat.

If you're fairly certain you're coming, please RSVP in the comments. It's not required, but it would be nice just to give us and the pub a head's up. Thanks!

*Jen drinking will probably not occur lest her liver explode from complications with mono. However, feel free to indulge around me. I won't be too jealous.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Indiana Governor displays his total ignorance on atheism

Oh, Mitch Daniels. I generally don't have many good things to say about you, but now you've made it particularly difficult for me. Take it away, Mitch:
People who reject the idea of a God -who think that we're just accidental protoplasm- have always been with us. What bothers me is the implications -which not all such folks have thought through- because really, if we are just accidental, if this life is all there is, if there is no eternal standard of right and wrong, then all that matters is power.

And atheism leads to brutality. All the horrific crimes of the last century were committed by atheists -Stalin and Hitler and Mao and so forth- because it flows very naturally from an idea that there is no judgment and there is nothing other than the brief time we spend on this Earth.

Everyone's
certainly entitled in our country to equal treatment regardless of their opinion. But yes, I think that folks who believe they've come to that opinion ought to think very carefully, first of all, about how different it is from the American tradition; how it leads to a very different set of outcomes in the real world.
You know what? It's late and I'm exhausted from today's festivities, so let's play a game. Instead of me going through and refuting everything he said, I'm leaving if up to you guys. How many misconceptions, stereotypes, blatant lies, and logical fallacies can you find?

At quick glance I see 11. Can you find all the ones I did? Can you find more? Good luck, boys and girls!

(Via Freethought Fort Wayne)

An eerie resemblance

Brought to you by the same relatives who produced the best blasphemous birthday gifts, I now show you my new awesome Christmas gift:Look familiar? I'll help you out:Yep. Chris and Erin got me the same awesome, soft, cuddly, adorable octopus plushie from the PZ photo. And it wasn't a coincidence - they got it because they know I love PZ's blog and would know the photo.

The funny part is when I walked in and saw an octopus plushie under the tree I exclaimed, "Man, I want that!" thinking it was for my nephews (since 99% of the presents were for them, naturally). At the time I didn't recognize exactly which exact plushie it was, since it was upside down and half buried by the twins' toys. Later on I was telling Erin how awesome it was, and she went "Well good, because it's for you!" Yaaaay!

Nothing makes a better pillow than a cephalopod. Well, maybe a kangaroo rat...

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas! Excuse my hives

Merry Christmas, all of my fellow atheists! I hope your holiday is filled with fun, family, good food, and gifts, and lacking annoying music, icy roads, and cantankerous religious relatives.

Apparently my Christmas present this year is a nasty full body rash. Hooray for mononucleosis combined with antibiotics! The effect is super common - it happens more often than not - but it still makes me cranky. You know how your skin looks when you accidentally fall asleep on textured fabric? My entire body (and face) looks that way, but in hasn't gone away. Absolutely lovely for the many family photographs that will likely ensue today. And top of making me look like a leper, it's just started to itch like hell.

I'm convinced God hates me. Every Christmas something seems to be wrong with me. I've had a broken foot, chicken pox, bad colds, and now mono on Christmas.

Mark: It's because dirty little heathens shouldn't enjoy Christmas like the people who worship the lord and savior of mankind, Jesus Christ Blessed Be His Name.
Me: But most of those things occurred when I was little D:
Mark: God knows AAAAAAALLLLLLLLLLLLL! He was pre-punishing you.

Bah humbug!

How to Meet Atheist Men

Anonymous asked...

You gave advise to guys seeking atheist girls, how about advise for girls seeking atheist guys? You have a boyfriend, right? So you're a credible source of information.

Exist.

...

Okay, okay, you know I'm joking. It's the first thing that popped into my head, but I think it does illustrate a misconception many (but not all) women have about relationships. A lot of us expect guys to make the first move. We may flirt back, but we're not going to do anything obvious like explicitly stating interest or - heaven forbid - asking the guy out on a date. They need to come to us and figure out vague hints to prove their worth, like some sort of sadistic test all women have agreed upon.

Ladies? Stop it.

I've had my fair share of relationships, from serious long term relationships to not so serious nookie. Out of ten guys, only one made the first move (my current boyfriend). Every other time I asked the guy out, went in for the kiss, etc. If I would have waited for a guy to make the first move, I could have had nothing until age 22. Or, more likely, I would have had a relationship earlier, but it would have been prefaced by months of bullshit and waffling.

I know being the aggressive one isn't for everyone. But I tend to be attracted to shy (or at least socially awkward) guys, so I figured out pretty quickly what I had to do. Are all men going to be happy with the woman being more aggressive? Probably not, but it's always worked for me. Are some men going to be elated to have women cut through the bullshit? Definitely.

This is more general advice that anything specifically for atheists. I'm not sure what more I can add to my previous post on men finding atheist women, since the same general tips apply. But I have found that in my atheist circles atheist men tend to be more intellectual/nerdy/introverted/socially awkward than guys and general. Obviously this is a generality that is not going to apply to all atheist men (maybe Purdue just fosters uber geeks) - but if that's the type of guy you go for, just make a move.

If you insist on being cryptic or fear rejection, I've found bitching about being single works. It's waves the giant "Hey fellas, I'm single and hate it, actually receptive to flirting right now!" flag. Some guys won't make a move if they're afraid you're not interested, or already have a boyfriend - so sometimes getting it out there helps. But don't constantly whine about it, or you'll start being annoying.

Guys, am I totally off base about this? Gals, am I the only women out here making all the moves?

Welcome home; have some religious pareidolia

I'm back home for the holidays - home being Northwest Indiana, which is effectively part of Chicago. This area is way more liberal than West Lafayette, so it's always a bit of a relief...but that doesn't mean it's completely void of religious wackiness. For example, here are two short articles in our local newspaper, both titled "Christmas miracles?":
JUDY FIDKOWSKI | THE TIMES Jason Amaya, 19, of Lake Station, holds a Cheeto that, to him, resembles Our Lady of Guadalupe, a celebrated Catholic image of the Virgin Mary.
JEFF BURTON | THE TIMES Last month, Renee Sperka noticed a unique spot on the wood paneling in the basement of her Hammond home. She and many of her friends believe it resembles the image of Jesus Christ.
Come on, wood paneling and a cheeto? Those have totally already been done before. You think the lord would be able to come up with more creative ways to reveal himself.

Christmas miracles? ...I think the answer to that is "No."

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Update: Google's religious "censorship" spreads?

About a week ago I made a post about Google's apparent concealment of suggestions for search terms about certain popular religions. A couple of people who work for Google (but not on Google's suggest feature) postulated that it may merely be an odd artifact the coding, some software bug, an algorithm error, etc. The last commenter said he spread the word around Google to get some answers...and now look at this new development:I hate to jump to conclusions, but it seems mighty suspicious that "Buddhists are" and "atheists are," the two terms I pointed out did have suggestions, now no longer do. Coincidence of another bug? Or has someone at Google been reading my blog post?

Would someone at Google like to explain what's going on? If Google is choosing to hide these search suggestions, I don't necessarily think it's a bad thing. They're not censoring the search results themselves, and as a private company they can do whatever they wish. I'm more curious behind Google's rationale on deciding what doesn't return a suggestion. Or if this does turn out to be some odd bug, why the heck is it acting so suspiciously?

EDIT: A reader makes an interesting comment that searching for many nationalities also fails to return suggestions. Try "Italians are" or "Mexicans are." Seems this may by a wider attempt not to offend. Though "Greeks are" does return stuff; blatant discrimination against me!!!*

*Joking. Obviously.

Don't be sexy, or guys have the right to randomly ejaculate on you

Feminist rage in 3...2...1...
No one disputes that an on-duty Irvine police officer got an erection and ejaculated on a motorist during an early-morning traffic stop in Laguna Beach. The female driver reported it, DNA testing confirmed it and officer David Alex Park finally admitted it.

When the case went to trial, however, defense attorney Al Stokke argued that Park wasn't responsible for making sticky all over the woman's sweater. He insisted that she made the married patrolman make the mess--after all, she was on her way home from work as a dancer at Captain Cream Cabaret.

"She got what she wanted," said Stokke. "She's an overtly sexual person."

A jury of one woman and 11 men—many white and in their 50s or 60s—agreed with Stokke. On Feb. 2, after a half-day of deliberations, they found Park not guilty of three felony charges that he'd used his badge to win sexual favors during the December 2004 traffic stop.

And apparently since you decided to show us all that you're flaming asshole, you want me to punch you in the face. You're obviously just asking for it.

Not only is this a disgusting case of slut shaming and victim blaming, but the police officer was actually stalking the stripper. He knew her profession would make her an easy target, as her "sexiness" was his only defense. The only sensible person at the trial was apparently the prosecutor:

In his closing argument, Stokke pounced. He called Lucy one of those "girls who have learned the art of the tease, getting what they want . . . they've learned to separate men from their money."

Kamiabipour wasn't amused. "Dancer or not, sexually promiscuous nor not, she had the right not to consent," she told jurors. "[Park] doesn't get a freebie just because of who she is . . . He used her like an object."

There is no excuse for rape or sexual assault. It doesn't matter if they're wearing revealing clothing, a stripper, walking around alone at night, or drunk. The blame lies with the man who is sexually assaulting and raping others. The fact that some people still can't get this through their tiny brain mildly terrifies me.


(Via Dispatches from the Culture Wars)

Ah, relaxation

I've discovered a unique trend. I actually blog more when I'm incredibly busy and stressed because I use it as a fun escape from that insanity. Aka, I use it to procrastinate doing real work. Why does this matter? Because unfortunately for you guys, I'm on winter break, which means I'm doing nothing but sleeping, eating, and playing video games. That also means I'm feeling fairly uninspired at the moment. So, you have two options:

1. Inspire me. Leave a question or topic in the comments, or email me at blaghagblog@gmail.com. Ask me anything, doesn't have to be intelligent or about atheism.

2. Tell me how you're relaxing over the holidays. Going on vacation? Reading an awesome book? Playing a great game? Drinking excessively? Inquiring minds want to know!

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go crack open my new copy of Little King's Story until I get some blog fodder.

Monday, December 21, 2009

How to Meet Atheist Women (and not scare them away)

"How do I meet atheist women?" It's the question asked over and over by other atheists, and answered over and over again by random bloggers. Random male bloggers. I'm not saying men can't give good dating advice, but it seems logical to me to get an atheist woman's point of view since...well, the goal is to attract an atheist woman. I also feel somewhat obligated to write an article on the topic, since "atheist dating" and "how to meet atheist women" are some of the most popular search terms that lead people to my blog, yet I don't really have a post on it. Of course, using that rationale I'd have to write posts on some pretty strange, kinky stuff, so...scratch that. I'm doing this out of the goodness of my heathen heart.

As a disclaimer, this advice is being generated with straight men in mind. To all the bisexual women and lesbians, you know I love you gals (and most of this advice is probably still applicable), but I'm a straight chick and writing what I know. And even though my many years of listening to Loveline and Dan Savage make me feel like a qualified relationship guru, I'm just some blogger with opinions and a vagina. No suing me if you're single for life.

The first major problem men seem to have is finding atheist women. There's not really anything different that you need to do for an atheist woman versus women in general. If you're a jerk/creep/slob/etc, finding an atheist chick isn't going to magically solve your girl problems - especially because atheist women have their pick of the litter. We're not necessarily outnumbered by atheist men, but I think it's safe to say we're currently harder to find. Many atheist groups, meetings, and conferences currently have a male bias (the reasons why are for another post), so we have more out atheists to choose from. Women are becoming more out and active, and I suspect we'll see an equal gender ratio soon - but you need companionship now, so enough of this speculation.

Where to find atheist women:
  • Local atheist organizations: Starting with something painfully obvious, go to your local atheist/skeptic/freethinker meetings. Some have better gender ratios than others, but if you're looking for someone who's active and vocal about her atheism, it's the place to go. Unitarian Universalists also tend to attract a lot of atheist women, so don't count them out.
  • Other nerdy or liberal organizations: Looking for clubs is probably easiest for those of us at college or in a big city, so I apologize to all of you atheists living in the middle of nowhere. Don't limit your search to explicitly atheistic organizations - not all atheists need a club for their atheism, and you can find them elsewhere. A lot of (but not all) atheists tend to also be science oriented, geeky, and or liberal - so take an Evolution course, check out the Anime club, or get active in your local ACLU. Obviously, pick things that also interest you (more on this later).
  • Artsy, non-traditional hangouts: As an artist I can speak pretty confidently on this one - for every artist that's crazy into woo, there's one who thinks it's bullshit. Artsy people tend to be pretty non-traditional and independent, and that can manifest itself in anything from weird spirituality to rabid rejection of religious dogma. Even the woo ones tend to be fairly tolerant of atheists, since they're at least not following the man. Or something like that. Check out local coffee shops, art galleries, poetry readings, or any other avant-garde events you may find.
  • The internet: Online dating may weird some people out, but I know women (atheist women!) who have had it work out great for them. OkCupid is teeming with atheists, to the point where talking about atheism greatly increases your number of replies (and religious talk is a conversation stopper). There are also plenty of atheist women who blog (woo!), comment on blogs, post in atheist forum, tweet, put videos on YouTube, etc. However, don't be a stalker (more on this later).
  • Let them find you: If you're comfortable with your atheism and don't feel like it'll get you lynched (people in the Bible Belt may want to ignore this advice), wear it proudly! Put on a skeptical shirt. Wear a scarlet A or Flying Spaghetti Monster pin. Deck out your backpack or man purse with heathen buttons. Decorate your lap top with skeptical stickers. Read the God Delusion or any other godless book in public. I know I'll usually at least say "nice book/sticker/etc" or give a smile to a kindred atheist - that can be your opening to start a conversation. Now, doing all of these things at once may come off as overkill - you don't want to be a walking billboard for atheism (as cool as our billboards are) unless you only want a woman who'd appreciate that. But small things do help. If you're out, it's more likely someone will find you or you'll pique her interest. When I was single, friending a new acquaintance on Facebook and seeing that he lists himself as "atheist" or "Pastafarian" or "Jedi" definitely made me interested. Once I was tempted to drive after a cute guy because he also had a Darwin fish on his car. Being out pays!
So you've finally found an elusive atheist woman - but now what? You don't want to frighten her away by being too forward, but you don't want to miss your chance by being too passive. It's a lot like catching that Chansey in the Safari Zone - you need a happy medium and a bit of luck. Or with a lot of luck, you'll find a woman who loves Dawkins and can make random Pokemon references.

How to not scare atheist women away:
  • Don't be a poser: Remember when I listed all those cool hobbies and clubs you should frequent because they may have atheist women? Only go to the ones that you're actually interested in. I'm not saying you have to be a master of whatever subject the club focus on - novices are often welcomed in organizations so they can cultivate their interest. But if you have absolutely no interest in Astronomy and you're hanging around just to pick up some godless chicks, stop. Women will find out you're feigning interest just to get in their pants, and it's creepy.
  • Remember that women are people, not just mates: While you may be on the prowl for a date, that doesn't mean every woman is too. Atheist women will go to clubs and coffee shops because they enjoy club activities and want a cappuccino. They'll partake in atheist activities on the internet without the goal of a relationship in mind. That's not to say they're completely unwelcoming to flirting - but constant flirting from every atheist with a penis does get old (Obvious Tip: Don't stare at boobs). It's enough to scare women away from atheist meetings because they're seen as a piece of meat rather than a fellow human being. If you follow the previous tip about being sincere about your interests, you should have common topics to talk about instead of coming off as desperate. Or at the very least, try to recognize when your advances are unwanted - I suggest all men go read Schrodinger's Rapist to see how many women perceive unwanted flirtation.
  • Have interests other than atheism: I am a very active atheist activist - I'm President of a club, I blog, I'm outspoken - but I have other interests. I have favorite books, TV shows, foods, sports, hobbies, etc. I am a person, and so is every other atheist women. When you meet one of us, the conversation shouldn't only be over how religion is silly and Richard Dawkins is awesome. Not only will you seem a bit one sided and obsessive, but it'll also make it seem like you're not really interested in us as a whole. This is especially true if you're dealing with a non-rabid atheist chick - she may not want to discuss religion at all.
  • Don't stereotype atheist women: I know this whole post I've been speaking in generalities, so this seems a bit hypocritical, but it really is important. Don't assume all atheist women are alike just because they're atheists. Some may be science oriented, and some may be bored to tears by your geek talk. Some may joke about eating babies, and some may punch you for such a crass joke. Some may be all about promiscuous sex and kinky orgies, and some may be waiting for marriage. This is yet another reason why communication is key; you just can't judge someone's personality, interests, and political beliefs because of their lack of religion.
  • Look presentable: I didn't want to delve into general dating tips, but this is so important that I have to mention it. You don't have to be endowed with fabulously handsome good looks, but simple effort to look decent is noted. Shave, unless you're one of the few men who can pull off the sexy rugged look (if you're not sure, you probably can't). Wear deodorant. For the love of FSM, shower. You'd think by now I wouldn't have to say that, but I've seen far too much greasy, unkempt bed head in my days at Purdue. I personally don't care about clothes as long as they're clean, but not every woman is as fashion apathetic as I am - something other than baggy sweatshirt can give you that extra bonus point over the other atheist guys. I fully understand that everyone has their bad day - I've stumbled off to meetings looking horrible and not giving a damn - but consistent sloven appearance leaves a lasting impression. If these suggestions sound patronizing, then you've probably been doing it right all along and they're not for you. If they seem like novel ideas, I suggest you take my advice.
Hopefully by now you can locate an atheist woman and get her to talk to you long enough to persuade her that you're not a giant creeper: congratulations! But if you're still having trouble, here are a couple of more tips:
  • Don't judge a book by its cover: A giant studded cross necklace or religious t-shirts don't automatically mean the woman wearing them is religious. I know my friends and I own some religious merchandise for irony's sake - because nothing is funnier than an in-joke of an atheist wearing that tacky "Jesus Saves" lifeguard shirt. Yeah, I know what you're thinking - now women are camouflaged? Why do they have to make it so difficult?! I guess it's just to teach you a lesson that you need to get to know a person before judging them. Sorry, guys.
  • Lame atheist pick up lines are still lame: No, you are not the first guy to joke about your noodly appendage. No, doing the "I just wanted to tell you about Jesus - jk, I'm an atheist and Christians are dumb" switch isn't funny either (about 25% of the messages I receive on OkCupid do this; not creative, guys).
  • Don't rule out non-atheists: Agnostics, deists, and "spiritual but not religious" types should be dating options as well - don't rule out someone who may have a little woo in their life. And while I believe you should never go into a relationship with the goal of changing someone, people without strong religious beliefs can and often do become atheists. Sometimes it's from being around an atheist so much, but other times it's because they were an atheist all along but never comfortable enough to admit it.
Like always, questions and comments are welcome. Particularly insightful and helpful tips may be added to this post if deemed worthy. I'm not sure what else to tell you other than good luck!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Downsizing rational books

I'm back home for the holidays, woo. One of the weird things about being away from home for so long is seeing all the changes when you come back - favorite restaurants disappear and new ones pop up, businesses change, roads appear... These things seem gradual when you're living there, but are a little unnerving when you've been away.

I went to Borders today and noticed the same thing. I always make a B-line to the science section...but it wasn't there. I had to search for a while before I found it stuck in the reference section. Instead of three bookshelves worth of science books, there were now one and a half. Why had science been moved? Because religious books now took up sixteen bookshelves instead twelve, and supernatural/astrology books took up six bookshelves instead of two. It also took me forever to find the atheist books, which I knew were usually stuck in religion, because they now got a single shelf (so 1/5 of a bookshelf) instead of three...and half of the books there were actually against atheism.

Boo.

I understand it's all about supply and demand, but that still makes me sad. How many Christian apologetics books does a person need? How many versions of the Bible could you possibly want? Four bookshelves were devoted just to the Bible, so apparently you can want a lot. Not only that, but they didn't have hardly any new atheism or science books that have been published in the last year or so - only new book I saw was Dawkins', which was on display next to the Atheists Delusion.

How the heck am I supposed to buy Christmas gifts for all of the heathen friends and family?!*

*And before someone comments about my whining, I really don't care. I just thought it was an interesting observation. I'll get my heathen fix from Amazon.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Best religious billboard ever

I really have nothing to say about this billboard put up by a church in New Zealand, other than it makes me giggle.Giggle.

Google's religious censorship: the double standard

Anyone who has used Google before knows that when you start typing a phrase, Google will start suggesting searches for you based on common searches of other people. This can be useful, and it can also lead to some pretty wacky stuff popping up sometimes. But what happens when you combine religion and Google's search suggestions? Let's take a look at some major world religions:Wow, a lot of negative and critical stuff being searched, huh? Because I'm an equal opportunity offender, let's throw in atheism too, even though it's technically not a religion (though apparently most searchers don't understand that).
But wait, what about Islam? Did I just forget about them? Nope - there's just nothing to show.
Yep. Google censors the search "Islam is," presumably so negative phrases don't pop up. Apparently it's okay to criticize other religions - but Islam? Oh ho ho, nooooo, we're not opening that can of worms.

But maybe no one is searching for "Islam is," and that's why we don't see it. Let's take a look at the number of search results per term:

"Christianity is" - 2,600,000
"Judaism is" - 486,000
"Hinduism is" - 270,000
"Buddhism is" - 550,000
"Atheism is" - 548,000
"Islam is" - 14,400,000

Yes, even though "Islam is" has the most search results, it offers no search suggestion.

Maybe this is an isolated case. What happens if we look at a similar type of search term?
Huh, looking pretty empty around here. I guess this goes with the old "Respect the person, not the idea" mantra that I support. As long as Google does that for all of the groups...
Well...okay, I guess none of those things are really bad things...
Aaanndd never mind. Guess it's still okay to pick on the ickle atheists, but not anyone else.

Let's look at the search results:

"Christians are" - 2,600,000
"Jews are" - 7,880,000
"Muslims are" - 1,890,000
"Hindus are" - 268,000
"Buddhists are" - 95,300
"Atheists are" - 390,000

Again, an odd little correlation. Two of the terms with the lowest amount of search results are the ones that actually show search suggestions. It's obvious Google is covering its ass and trying not to offend religious users - and you know what, as a company they have that right. And as long as they're not censoring the actual results (which seems true, looking at the number of search results), that's okay with me. But I think this really illustrates the attitude that surrounds criticizing religion.

We've gotten to the point where it's okay to criticize everything but Islam - which is a better than not being able to criticize religion at all - but we shouldn't be putting Islam on a special pedestal. We can't be bullied into silence through threats and incidents like the Muhammad cartoons, because that only gives them even more power. Even something as simple as Google being afraid to highlight the searches of others (not their own personal views) shows how strongly people can fear criticizing Muslims.

And as for the search terms about individuals? I personally don't think Google should censor anything, as it leaves silly loop holes like this. It shows which groups scare them the most - the ones with the most power - rather than any sort of logical, uniform censoring system. I don't think Google hates atheists, but rather that they realize we won't flip our shit at a couple of nasty search terms. It just all seems a bit ridiculous, really.

(Hat tip to Reddit for finding this)

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Military abortion ban and the horrific story of a female soldier

Folks, it takes a lot to trigger me; not just to make me mad - we all know how easily I can rant about something. But this story literally had my mouth gaping and left me feeling sick. Kathryn Joyce, who you may remember as the author of Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement, has written an article on the US military's abortion ban. I didn't even know such a ban existed, but the horrifying part comes when you realize how this actual affects women.

Sorry for the huge quote, but it's a must read (with bold emphasis mine). Article is fairly long, so click the link above for the full thing. Also, warning that this contains some graphic imagery.

For military women, who lack all rights to medical privacy, facing an unplanned pregnancy is a daunting obstacle. Thanks to anti-abortion forces in Congress, military hospitals are banned from providing abortion services, except in cases of life endangerment, rape, or incest (and for the latter two, only if the patient pays for the service herself). Amy says her options were “like being given a choice between swimming in a pond full of crocodiles or piranhas.”

“I have long been aware of the stigma surrounding this circumstance and knew my career would likely be over, though I have received exceptional performance reviews in the past,” Amy explains. Although Fallujah has a surgical unit, and abortion is one of the most common surgical procedures, Amy knew that if her pregnancy were discovered, she would be sent back to her home base at North Carolina’s Camp Lejeune, where she would then have to seek a private abortion off-base, or she could request leave in Iraq and try her luck at a local hospital. She also knew she could face reprimands from her commanding officers for having had sex in Iraq (part of a broader prohibition on sex in war zones), and that she might not be promoted as a result: a potentially career-ending situation in the Marines, where failure to obtain regular promotions results in being discharged. Moreover, as a woman in the military, accustomed to proving herself to her male peers over her six-year career, Amy was wary of appearing a “weak female.”

“If you get sent home for something like that, everyone will know about it,” says Amy. “That’s a really bad stigma in the military. I thought, that’s not me, I’ve worked harder and I could outrun all the guys. So I chose to stay, and that was just as bad.”

From a remove of two years, Amy now sees the sex that resulted in her pregnancy as rape: something that may have qualified her for an on-base (though self-funded) abortion. However, at the time, because the rape wasn’t brutally violent, and because she had seen fellow servicewomen be ostracized for “crying rape” in the past, she imagined nothing but trouble would come of making a complaint.

Instead, using herbal abortifacient supplements ordered online, Amy self-aborted. Unable to find a coat hanger she used her sanitized rifle cleaning rod and a laundry pin to manually dislodge the fetus while lying on a towel on the bathroom floor. It was a procedure she attempted twice, each time hemorrhaging profusely. Amy lost so much blood on the first attempt that her skin blanched and her ears rang. She continued working for five weeks, despite increasing sickness, until she realized she was still pregnant.

The morning after her second attempt, she awoke in great pain, and finally told a female supervisor, who told Amy to take an emergency leave to fly back to the United States where a private abortion clinic could finish the procedure. However, Amy was afraid that she would miscarry on the 15-hour plane ride and have no medical escort to help her. She went to the military hospital instead and told the doctor everything. Shortly thereafter, her company first sergeant and other officers were notified of Amy’s condition. The first sergeant came to her hospital room to announce that Amy would be punished under Article 92 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which addresses violations of general regulations, for having had sex in a war zone.

That night, Amy miscarried alone in her shower. Fearful of the advice of a sympathetic female officer who suggested that Amy might be charged for the abortion as well (she wasn’t), she flushed the fetus down the toilet. “I don’t believe there was ever a life or a soul there,” Amy says, “but I feel undignified for doing that.” When her nonjudicial punishment (a plea sentence for a misdemeanor-like offense) went through, Amy was fined $500 and given a suspended rank reduction.

Master Sergeant Keith Milks, a public affairs officer in Amy’s former unit, the II Marine Expeditionary Force, says he can’t comment specifically on Amy’s case, as the administration action of the punishment and Amy’s personnel details are covered by privacy provisions. However, he says, her sentence is in keeping with the options for disciplining soldiers for breaking the prohibition on sex in a war zone.

At Amy’s request, she was sent home from Iraq, after a military psychiatrist determined that she was “too psychologically unstable” to remain, and diagnosed her with acute anxiety, PTSD, and depression. “They convinced themselves that anyone who would do a self-abortion is crazy,” Amy says. “It’s not a crazy thing. It’s something that rational, thinking women do when they have no options.”

What. The. Fuck.

I really don't know if I can comment on this issue without becoming too emotional, but I'll try my best. No, I've never had an abortion, but the idea of being put through this situation terrifies me. To know that a clump of unconscious, parasitic cells is more important to some people than the life of an adult woman - than my life - nauseates me. And a life is what's at stake when you ban abortions. Women will chose abortion when it's the right option for them, and they will do it by any means possible. The only only thing banning abortion does is increase the death of women.

To think that these women are fighting for our rights, yet don't even get to exercise theirs... That they're labeled as crazy because they want to terminate their pregnancy... That all of their options include stigma and career trouble...

Goddamnit. And people call me a feminazi because I point out women and men are not yet equal. If you can still say that after reading that piece, you're heartless.

A blast from the past: my high school paper on intelligent design

Oral Roberts died, etc. It's already been covered by other blogs (My favorite title being "Oral Roberts has finally been killed by God for not raising enough money."), and no matter how many horrible things I think a person did while they were alive, I just don't feel right talking bad about someone when they're dead. So I'll leave it at that.

Why mention it, then? Well, it reminded me of a girl I went to high school with who now attends Oral Roberts University. We were sort of friends - the kind that talk a lot in class, but don't really do anything outside of school. She was super nice and a brilliant student, and always outshone everyone in our honors english, history, and math classes. So when I found out she was going to Oral Roberts, it felt like a step down. This is the kind of person who could go anywhere on scholarship, and she was going there?

But it didn't really surprise me, because I found out how religious she was that semester. We were in AP Composition together the spring of our senior year (one of the most hellish, ridiculous classes I had to take at my high school - that's a rant of its own) and our next assignment was a debate paper. One person had to be pro, the other con on a topic of our choice. We were partnered together by the sheer luck of sitting near each other, and started brainstorming topic ideas.

I had been reading a lot about evolution lately, so I suggested "How about whether or not Intelligent Design should be taught in school?"

"Oh, that's a great idea!" she said. I smiled. "My father has his PhD in theology, so he'll be able to help me a lot." And smile gone.

I shouldn't say my smile was gone - rather it was likely replaced by the smug grin of an 18 year old who knew she had this debate in her pocket. After devouring information about evolution and the ID debates for the last four years, this paper was going to be easy to write. The hardest part was shoving it all into a 4 page limit in the constraints of the formal thesis-3 supporting paragraphs-conclusion format. And fulfilling all of the random requirements our teacher created, like interviewing people, using a certain number of magazine articles versus books, yadda yadda.

I found that paper now (pdf here). I have to say, it's fairly good for an 18 year old who self-taught herself evolution - still more intelligent than most of the creationist bull crap you hear today. I'm actually more impressed by my writing style, which has apparently totally deteriorated after being subjected to nothing but science classes at Purdue (which pretty much never write anything, least of all essays).

But that's not the fun paper.

The fun paper is my rebuttal. We got to read each other's papers* and write a 1000 word rebuttal, which would factor into our overall grade. She didn't seem too unnerved by my initial paper. But I still remember that day when we were sitting in the library and swapped our rebuttals.

I made her cry.

Oh, those big bad evolutionary biologists. Keep in mind I was a extraordinarily passive agnostic who was just coming out of deism at this point. Making her cry was not my goal - winning this debate, sure, but not tears. Thinking about this experience now, I can't imagine what I said that could have upset her that much. That is, until I went back and read my rebuttal (pdf here).

Oh my god. Hilarious.

Not only did I call her paper a "futile attempt" with "claims [that] hardly contain even a modicum of truth," but I invoked Hitler at the end. Yes, I failed Godwin's law, but at least I did it spectacularly (in my unbiased opinion).
Even Behe’s book Darwin’s Black Box inclusion as “one of the most important books of the twentieth century” speaks little: Mein Kampf is considered one of the most influential books ever, but that hardly makes its message true (Sobilo).
I wasn't trying to be mean. I think I just really, really wanted to win that debate - especially since, if I remember correctly, our teacher had some inane grading system where the better paper of the two got an automatic 100%. Niceties were not getting in the way of a grade boost I desperately wanted.

Needless to say, I got the 100%. Oh, she's a far superior writer than I am - it's just hard winning a debate when you have zero logical points to make (don't worry, she still got an A for the writing). I remember I even showed all of the papers to my AP Biology teacher at the time. He just blinked slowly and said "You destroyed her."

Of course, did I do anything to help the cause of evolution? Probably not. I guess this illustrates the fine line we have to walk between opening up dialog, or letting our frustrations win and calling people names. Do the big names of ID who are spreading lies deserve ridicule? I'm in the camp that says "sure." Do 18 year olds who don't really understand the topic? Probably not.

Ah, young Jen fail. Though on an interesting note, I had just started reading Pharyngula while writing that paper. Coincidence, or contagious crankiness - I'll let you decide.

*I don't have a copy of her paper or rebuttal. Well, a hard copy is probably buried somewhere back home, but I still wouldn't want to post it since it's her intellectual property. You can pretty much imagine what she said by reading any creationist argument on the internet, since they just parrot each other anyway.

It's not lupus...

...it's mono! Yay. Just what I needed right before winter break, to get sick.

Apparently it was pretty obvious to my doctor, just looking at symptoms alone. Apparently giant tonsils (enough to make him go "Woah!" - I felt kind of accomplished, like I had grown a giant pumpkin for a competition or something), white spots, swollen lymph nodes, and an achey spleen = mononucleosis.

Doctor: Have you been feeling tired or fatigued?
Me: ...I always feel tired and fatigued (unsaid: I'm a college student). I guess I've been feeling more tired and fatigued, but it's also finals week, so who knows what the cause is.
Doctor: ...good point.

It was even obvious enough that he didn't claim I was pregnant, which notoriously happens to every female who ever goes to our health center for any kind of ailment. He sent me down to get my blood drawn to confirm that it was indeed mono. I had actually never had my blood drawn before today. I'm not sure how I got to age 22 without it; guess I just never have been really sick. I was a weenie and closed my eyes, since I'm stupidly squeamish - now you know one of the reasons I'm not going to medical school.

I came back about a half hour later and he confirmed the lab results. Though I have to say, I love it when doctors find out I'm a biologist, because they get visibly excited that they can start explaining things more in depth. He told me how all the various tests worked and why they showed I indeed had mono (on the bright side, I'm not anemic like I suspected - guess my fatigue was the mono). I was starting to geek out as well until I realized, crap, I have mono. Sigh, I guess if there's a time for me to have no energy for many weeks, it's during winter break. Not like I was planning on doing anything other than blog writing and video game playing.

Though I thought it was appropriate that not only do I have mono the disease, but I have mono the plush microbe:
Guess I needed to lay off the kissing.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The History of Christmas: The Case of the Missing Jesus

I know, you all are probably sick of reading Christmas related posts by now. It seems like nearly half of the posts from atheist blogs I read are about Christmas in some way or another, and it's starting to get old. But I just read this great summary of the history of Christmas, and I wanted to pass it along. I think the author does an excellent job documenting Christmas's pagan history, how various traditions came about, and how only recently it became a holiday about Jesus's birth. Hearing "put the Christ back in Christmas" is driving me crazy, and this is a nice post to forward to anyone who needs a history lesson. Just a snippet:
Christmas spent the best part of 800 years as a holiday of misrule. It was the time of year to subvert natural order. Servants were crowned and lords played fools. You were allowed to kiss and cavort and roll in the hay. Drunkenness, promiscuity, and gambling weren't just permitted, they were encouraged. You went wassailing -- what we would call caroling -- where the objective was to get someone to give you ale and bread in exchange for your song. If you got ale at every house, I imagine this tradition looking something like a medieval pub crawl.
Hmmm...I think we need to preserve Christmas's true roots!

Flip a switch; become a dude!

Okay, so it's not exactly that simple; but researchers have found a gene that keeps females being...well, female. FOXL2, which was known to be involved with ovary growth, apparently keeps a woman's body from turning into a man. Switch off FOXL2, and ovaries will start turning into testes and testosterone-producing cells will develop. Just think what this says about the human gender binary, or future less invasive methods for people undergoing gender reassignment.

*obligatory SCIENCE IS COOL flailing*

Sorry, that's all the commentary you get, since my tonsils currently feel like they're turning into...uh...inflamed...spikey...polka-dotted sadness*. Which I guess is better than testicles? Check out the article for a more detailed explanation, or for the genetically-inclined, read the original paper here.

*My wit fails me when I don't feel well. I apologize.

Purdue Non-Theists and atheism featured in local newspaper

Today the Journal & Courier has a piece called "Atheism makes nonbelief known on campuses," which features the Society of Non-Theists at Purdue University (which I'm President and co-founder of, if you haven't figured that out by now). It's a fairly long piece, and I'm very happy for the coverage. The reporter basically emailed me out of the blue saying he saw the Secular Student Alliance's press release on the growing number of atheist groups (which was kind of a while ago, little slow I guess), and he wanted to feature ours. Some snippets:
At Purdue University, the Society of Non-theists held a "Fiction for Fiction" event. People could trade in religious texts, including Bibles and the Koran, for fiction novels.

As the stigma of atheism has diminished, campus atheists and agnostics have heightened their profile, fueling a sharp rise in the number of campus clubs in the mold of the Society of Non-Theists.

"The main reason I founded the club is because I felt so alone," said Jennifer McCreight, a Purdue senior from Munster. "I thought I was the only atheist at Purdue. I quickly learned that was not the case.

"I now am surrounded by people that I feel comfortable sharing my lack of belief with. It's a relief to have that safe haven when the many people at Purdue and in the U.S. react so negatively and threateningly toward non-theism."

McCreight said the Purdue group is affiliated with the Secular Student Alliance. Nationally, campus affiliates have grown from 80 in 2007 to 100 in 2008 and 174 this fall.
Man, I soooo prefer email interviews to phone interviews. Look, I actually sound moderately intelligent when I get to type my responses, and it pretty much eliminates the ability to misquote!

Overall, I'm happy with the article. Like I said, they wanted to cover us completely out of the blue, and I think any advertisement we can get is a good thing. It's a pity that it comes at the end of the semester when we won't have any knew events for a month, but here's to hoping people join our mailing list or something. I'm also glad that they highlighted some of our philanthropic events too - Secular Service Day and our food drive participation - because it makes us seem less like a bunch of cranky religion haters.

I do have a quibble, though (I always have something to complain about, don't I?). This is the last third of the article:
The Rev. Patrick Baikauskas said he is praying for the Purdue Non-Theists to "find their way back to church." He is the new pastor at St. Thomas Aquinas, the Catholic Center at Purdue.

"There is a lot of seeking going on. There should be," he said. "They are looking at a lot of things. They don't want to believe just because their parents want them to."

The Dominican priest said St. Tom's campus ministry is stronger than ever. He estimated that 7,000 people worshipped in the church at various times on Ash Wednesday to start Lent. He said weekend Masses also are well-attended.

He said a recent discernment session was offered at St. Tom's for young men wanting to find out more about the priesthood or religious life. Eighteen men attended. Past sessions have drawn only a handful of men, he said.

"All of them won't become priests, but I thought that was a great turnout," Baikauskas said.
Oh, where to begin.

1. I hate the patronizing nature of the Reverend's quotes. Yep, we're all just foolish children in a phase and rebelling against our parents. Bull. Shit. First of all, a number of us (like myself) come from families who didn't feel the need to indoctrinate us in religion, so we don't have a church to "find our way back to." Yep, not everyone is raised in Christianity - shocker! Second of all, our members are some of the most intelligent people you're going to find on campus. Many know more about religion than theists, and all have put thought into their non-theism. This isn't some random decision we made to piss off mommy and daddy - most of us have put years and years of deep thought behind our non-theism.

2. Why does an article, which is supposed to be featuring atheism and our group, get the last third devoted to religion? What does our local Catholic church have to do with anything? Why did they get to list their numbers, but they didn't mention that the Society has over 400 people on our mailing list after just over two years? When they do an article on the growing number of mass attendees, are they going to email me so I can poo-poo their beliefs and then talk about how awesome atheism is? I don't think so. It seems like bad reporting to include this in a feature, when another side doesn't need to be present, but it's even more annoying since the reporter told me how awesome our responses were and how he wouldn't be able to fit them all. Maybe if he cut out the irrelevant religious stuff, he could have.

3. They give links to our facebook page and twitter...but not our main website. We hardly ever use FB or twitter, and I only provided the link to our main website, so I have no idea how that happened. Advertising fail.

Alright, my complaints just took up more space than my praise, but I really am happy we got the article at all. We don't get covered in the Journal & Courier a lot, so hopefully a lot of local non-theists will see this. Oh, and I get to spend the rest of the day reading the comments on the article, which always provides me with depressing amusement. Already have someone there telling me I can't be good without God, woo.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Atheist Holiday Traditions

Looking for some new secular traditions to include in your Christmas festivities? Look no further (click here for the entire comic).I actually really like the phylogenetic tree idea. May have to start collecting various animal ornaments...

Sometimes leaving my atheist bubble unnerves me

Yesterday I went to the Purdue Christmas Show with Bryan and a couple of our friends. I really wasn't dying to go, as I'm already starting to get Christmassed-out... but it's a 75 year old Purdue tradition, and I felt like I should go see it once before I graduate. I have to say, I was very impressed. The student singers were fabulous, especially when they were dancing around stage in unison, and I loved the bit where they played some songs just with bells. I'm a mediocre singer and never learned how to play a instrument, so musical things always impress me.

But then came Act II, and they dialed the Jesus Factor up to 11.

Instead of everyone being dressed in comfy sweaters or sparkly dresses, all of the students wore matching church choir robes. The background changed from a wintry landscape with snowflakes to stain glass windows and crosses. Instead of dancing around stage and impressing us with their coordinated jazz hands, they stood somberly and didn't move for the entire act. And of course, instead of songs about winter and Santa and friendship and family, it was about Jesus and God and Creation and being saved.

Oh, religion. Why must you ruin everything?
Santa apparently loves Baby Jesus too.

I know what you must be thinking: "Jen, it's the Purdue Christmas Show. You can go on and on about how it's just a pagan holiday co-opted by Christians and is now losing its religious meaning, but some people do associate it with the birth of Jesus. You're going to have some religious songs." And you're totally right. A lot of Christmas songs that I enjoy have religious imagery, and they're quite beautiful. I went to this show totally expecting some.

However, I think sixteen highly religious songs* in a row is kind of overkill. By the time the fourth song came on, I literally started to feel trapped. It was like I had been tricked into going to church - the hall had been made to look like a Cathedral, and all the music turned into gospel worship songs. It was definitely uncomfortable, and that's not how I expect to feel going to a music show from a secular public University**.

Baby behind us: *wails*
Me: *turns to Bryan* That's about how I feel right now

But as I sat there, I realized it wasn't the context of the songs that unnerved me - it was that the vast majority of the 5,000+ people there literally believed every word of it. We could all listen to songs about Santa and enjoy them without believing that he really did come down chimneys on Christmas Eve. But when they started singing about God creating the world and sending his only son (who was himself) to save all of us, all I could think was "I'm surrounded by people who believe this nonsense." I would have the same feeling if you told me I was in a room full of people who all thought they had been abducted by aliens, or that the world was going to end in 2012.

That's why leaving my atheist bubble sometimes scares me. Nearly all of my friends are atheists, the one club I have time for is the Non-Theists, I read atheist blogs...so I get deluded that everybody is an atheist. Then I go to something like this and I realize I am in the minority. It's quite a wake up call.

*Here are the songs, in case you want to judge for yourself: Angels We Have Heard on High, The First Noel, Silent Night (these first three the audience was supposed to sing along), Hark the Herald Angels Sing, Can You Hear It?, Some Children See Him, Ring the Bells, Lux Arumque, Anthem for Christmas, Emmanuel, O Come All Ye Faithful, Go Tell It On the Mountain, Joy to the World, Little Drummer Boy, Each Single Day, Silent Night (needed to hear it again, apparently)

**On that note, how does a public University get away with having a religious Christmas show? I can understand a "Holiday" show were they throw in the dradle song for good measure, but something so explicitly about Jesus? I don't see Purdue putting on giant shows for other religions. Where's my Happy Monkey dance number?

Friday, December 11, 2009

Now I know why I liked Pokemon so much

Because it's Satanic! Duh!



I loved how when he starts talking about Satan they show a picture of Jigglypuff. Yes, the embodiment of pure evil.

I wonder what this preacher would think once he saw James's frequent cross dressing...

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Local newspaper highlights atheists who celebrate Christmas

Well, this was a pleasant surprise today! The Exponent, Purdue's student newspaper, ran a piece today on atheists and agnostics who still celebrate Christmas. As a heathen who has pretty much been listening to nothing but Christmas music for the last week, I definitely fit into that group.

“It seems that Santa Claus, rather than Jesus Christ, is the mythical figure around which Christmas is centered,” Stolyarov said.

Chris Komlos, a junior in the College of Engineering, said even though his family is agnostic they still celebrate like everyone else.

“I tend to think of it as more of a second Thanksgiving. It’s more of a family holiday than a religious one,” Komlos said. “The commercialization of Christmas is good for those who are not so religious and want a feel-good family holiday.”

Remington Roberts, a junior in the College of Technology, said Christmas is lost in the commercial aspect and is hardly religious anymore.

Roberts is atheist but his family still puts up a tree, has dinner with relatives, opens presents and hangs up stockings.

“When I was younger I questioned the meaning behind Christmas, but after I found out I just started celebrating it to be with my family,” Roberts said. “There is never any conflict between my relatives who are religious and me; I just go with the flow.”

Success! Though the one downside is the Exponent is no longer taking letters to the Editor for this semester, so no watching those "Keep Christ is CHRISTmas" people spluttering.

I'm a bit bemused, however, that the Society of Non-Theists and it's members weren't contacted for this story. You'd think you'd want to use your resources on campus, right? Maybe I should take this as a sign that non-theism is becoming more accepted that they don't need to go find a local group. Or more likely (since I've known people who worked at the Exponent), this reporter had some heathen friends she could call up, and that was good enough research for her. Oh well, good article nonetheless!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Erotic pottery, sleeping around, and the gaydar

Okay, now that I have your attention...

Today was just full of sexual news! Usually each of these stories would win their own post, but I guess I'll just make one super sexy entry. Try not to get too hot and bothered.

1. A new exhibit has opened featuring the erotic artwork of ancient Greece and Rome. Ah, I'm so proud of my ancestors. I can't imagine having the dishes in my apartment covered in drawings of gay sex. ...Well, okay, I can, but some of my guests probably wouldn't want to eat off of them. ...Who am I kidding, my friends are all strange like me. They'd love it. That being said, I love their description of the prostitutes kiosk, with the walls covered with illustrations on what's on the menu. "Eh, you like the retrograde wheelbarrow over there? That's two chickens and a loaf of bread." (Via Boing Boing)

2. A new study from University of Minnesota researchers has found that casual sex does not have a negative psychological impact on those that practice it. So to all of those people out there who say sex without love is evil or imply that something is wrong with people who enjoy sex for the sake of sex - HA!

3. Oh, the inner workings of the Gaydar. Not only do people fair better than random guessing when it comes to speculation on a stranger's sexual orientation, but they can make that decision in under a second. Original article talks about the evolutionary implications and some of the studies flaws, though it left out my major criticism - how do fag hags do compared to the general public?!? I'm pretty sure I would have been an outlier if you threw me in that study.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Pin-up Priests

Apparently a traditional calendar in Rome, Calendario Romano, features hunky Roman Catholic priests. Photographer Piero Pazzi shoots these sexy men of the cloth to raise money and awareness for the Vatican. Even though it's been nicknamed the "Vatican Beefcake Calendar," the Holy See doesn't endorse it and pretty much turns a blind eye. Hey, money and women* lining up for church services - it's a win-win situation!
File this in the category of "Things that make Jen both happy and sad at the same time" (with relevant facebook groups here and here).

Unfortunately the calendar is already sold out. Darn. Guess we'll have to stick to the Skepchick and Skepdude calendars (if they ever announce when they're coming out!).

EDIT: Apparently there are Mormon pin-up calendars too (thanks Jake). Yowza, maybe that's why they can only wear dorky short sleeve dress shirts and ties - to cover up their six packs. Oh, and I love how the female calendar, while sexy as hell, still manages to stereotype all women as mothers who are great at baking. Who occasionally pose seductively. Mind. Exploding.

*Shhh, let's not mention the gays, or they may stop publishing this.
(Via Carnal Nation)

Female skeptics get shout out in USA Today

USA Today ran a great piece on friendly atheism today. While it contained the typical "What's better: Aggressive, mocking tactics, or peaceful, accomidationist tactics?" false dichotomy, there's a new spin. Women, they claim, are bringing a softer side to the movement, and we should embrace their efforts.

Now, I don't think this is automatically stereotyping and saying that all female skeptics are passive and afraid to offend. Ariane Sherine is behind the controversial atheist bus campaign, and female bloggers can have some piss and vinegar in their posts (of course, I would never do such things *halo*).

But the article does have a point. Much of the work done by female skeptics (check out the list at the end of the article) has a positive spin, which can be easier for the general public to digest than stuff by Dawkins or Hitchens. Don't get me wrong - I think "aggressive atheism" is just as important - but that a good cop/bad cop sort of technique will work the best.

Should female skeptics forever be the diplomats? No, but it's an open niche we can fill for now. If this is the best way to start getting more integrated into the atheist movement, the ultimate goal being a 50/50 sex ratio and females whose names are as well known as Dawkins and Hitchens, I'll take it. Appreciation will continue to grow.

So congrats, ladies! Let's keep up the atheist girl power. (And Hemant. You go...guy?)

And no, I didn't make their list of awesome female atheists ;) Not yet, at least! Maybe the project I have planned for winter break will launch me out of the blogosphere (and yes, I included that vague hint because I'm evil).

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Discussion on atheism ironically demonstrates why we need discussions on atheism

On Tuesday there was an event held at Purdue University titled "A Day in the Life of: students who identify as secular or non-theist." It was organized by various diversity offices on campus, not the Society of Non-theists, though our members were asked to sit on the panel. As stated by the event information, the purpose of the panel was "to provide an opportunity to students who identify as secular, agnostic, atheist, or non-theist to discuss campus life and experiences. The audience will be primarily composed of student services staff members with an interest in developing their understanding of all types of diversity, including (non-)religious identity."

I can't express how happy I am that Purdue is recognizing the needs of non-theists and including us in discussions of diversity. The more people realize that we exist, we are good people, and we face discrimination because of our lack of belief, the more we'll be able to fight that discrimination. I unfortunately wasn't at the panel for a certain reason, but everyone said that it was great and that they thoroughly enjoyed it.

Well, maybe not one person.

I'll leave it to two of the panelists to describe what went down (very minor editing/splicing on my part).
Amanda:
We were probably just at the beginning of our hour and a half discussion when one audience member asked if the Non-Theists at Purdue get any hate mail. Since Jen wasn’t there, and we weren’t really sure about the hate mail specifics we answered yes, and bunny-trailed into discussing some of the letters to the editor in the exponent. A woman raised her hand to ask if the “hate mail” specifically said “I hate you”, then added that if the word “hate” wasn’t in it we shouldn’t be calling it “hate mail”. Erm…ok. At this point I had a feeling this woman was going to be belligerent and was just hoping that would be the last thing she would say…but unfortunately it wasn’t.

Alicia:
We kindly told her that it was certainly possible to express the feeling of hatred without using the word 'hate.' This also brought up the topic of the Society fliers being torn down or having Jesus-messages written on them. The Christian lady proceeded to tell us a random story about a church bake sale she did (she went into excruciating detail about this damn bake sale), where someone apparently approached her and really liked the brownies so he said he'd bring back some pals. He asked what it was for, and when she said it was for church, he said "Oh" very shortly and walked away, never to return. Shawn explained that every group has its radicals, including atheists, and we couldn't really speak for this person because we didn't know who he was or what his issues were. Kind of funny that she just assumed he was someone we could answer for.

Amanda:
More questions were asked and the discussion got moving forward again, but the woman began to monopolize the discussion, talking when other audience members clearly had questions to ask.

Alicia:
The Christian lady piped up again eventually with something along the lines of: "I think everyone in here is wondering"---(I'm pretty sure no one else in the room was wondering this)---"where you believe life comes from? Do you believe we evolved from monkeys?"

I pounced on this immediately. I am a biologist and a strong believer in evolution, and the whole "humans came from monkeys" thing is a personal pet peeve of mine. I immediately explained that no where in evolution does it state that man evolved from apes or monkeys, and this was a common and very unfortunate misunderstanding. However, I certainly believe that life evolved on Earth and that's where humans come from. Then Tom added further explanation to that by explaining the difference between evolution, abiogenesis, and cosmology.

Amanda:
The other panelists, biologists and sciencey people in general, looked like they were holding back scoffs and I knew the question was going to take the discussion into the wrong direction; we were there to discuss the secular student experience at Purdue, not to debate evolution with someone who obviously didn’t get it at all. So, I tried to diffuse the situation by giving an answer that had nothing to do with monkeys. I said although I think evolution is the answer that makes the most sense, I feel like the specifics of how life on Earth happened don’t really matter to me. Even if someday, we knew the answer 100% for sure, it wouldn’t change my life so I don’t really care about where we came from.

This had exactly the opposite effect that I was hoping for. The woman started to look visibly upset and teary eyed when she again started talking and said "You said you don’t care about where you came from, but how can you say that? If you don’t care about where you came from, then you don’t care about yourself, and you can’t care about others. I feel sorry for you." This was basically when shit hit the fan, and some of the other panelists and I started to get really fed up with the lady.

Alicia:
Well, Tom leapt on that immediately, and said, "That's the kind of patronizing crap that really gets on our tits"---or something like that. I got really defensive as well, and I started to try and ask her why we need to believe in God to care about people, and she quickly claimed that she never brought God into the equation. Well, no, she didn't say anything about God, but it was very obviously implied. I took Amanda's statement to mean she didn't care to understand science or evolution---not all people are interested in science, big deal. She took it to mean something way more spiritual, obviously, and was bringing God into it whether she intended to or not.

This fiasco was cut short by the moderator who said, "Not caring about the origin of life does not mean she can't care about other people. Now, next question..."

Amanda:
Then we got to talking about the Porn and Popcorn event and I said I found the speakers at the event particularly offensive when they starting making unnecessary comments (insults) about nonbelievers. At this point we were near the very end of the discussion, and the woman just totally lost it. She started to cry again, this time she was blubbering, and said something like (it was difficult to understand, she was having trouble talking at this point)…"You said you were offended, well you offended me when you said you didn’t believe god exists." Then she broke into more sobbing and sniffling and the other audience members started to snicker at her, or at least she thought they were snickering at her, and she yelled at them about how it wasn’t funny. At this point the moderators stepped in and ended the event early. The woman basically ran out crying, and that was the end of the discussion.

The last thing the woman said, about us offending her because we don’t believe god exists is what really got me. First of all, she voluntarily came to the discussion knowing it was called “A Day in the Life of: students who identify as secular or non-theist”. What did she expect? It seemed like with all her baiting, she just came there for an argument, and got upset when she realized the other audience members weren’t agreeing with her awesome words of wisdom. Secondly, what I supposed to do if the fact that I don’t “believe” in god, my very existence offends her? Am I supposed to crawl in a cave and let the people who believe evolution means “we came from monkeys” run the planet? I’m just disappointed that someone had to come piss in my cereal during an event that’s purpose was to promote diversity and a better understanding of atheists.

Alicia:
We stuck around for a little while afterward and spoke with the coordinators and apologized for what happened. They said we handled it well, and that they had been expecting something much worse than what they got. They also asked us if there was any way they could have handled it better, and we told them that moving the subject along was the best option. We don't mind the questions about our beliefs or lack of religion, but letting things escalate is probably not a good idea.
Though this summary focuses on the major incident that occurred, the event as a whole went well. There were many great questions asked, such as What were your expectations as atheists when you came to Purdue?, What experiences have you had in classrooms or anywhere on campus in regards to your beliefs?, What has it been like coming out to your families?, What can Purdue do to make non-theists feel more welcome?, and Does being a female have any affect on your interactions amongst atheists? This one lady was the only audience member who reacted negatively to the panel.

I think this really demonstrates why we need to keep having discussions and panels like this and bringing our atheism out into the open. This individual, probably like many others, is so offended at the mere existence of atheists that she broke down into tears in a room full of her coworkers. As Tom mentioned to me after the event, would any of us now feel comfortable approaching her for the services of her position at Purdue? I know I'd have my reservations. But keep in mind that all the other people in the room, probably many (if not all) theists, reacted positively to the event and learned something that day. Maybe this lady did too, even though she didn't handle it well at first. If just a fraction of the room now looks at non-theists in a new light, that's a victory.

Thanks to all of the panelists for representing the Society, and to Amanda and Alicia for writing up their summaries.