Friday, September 12, 2014

Death and Grieving as an Atheist

(Photo credit: StockArch)

Any minute now, my grandfather will die of lung cancer.

It hasn't been a long battle. In fact, he was diagnosed a little more than a month ago. In a way, I'm glad he didn't suffer long. He's already suffered enough losing his wife, my grandmother, almost two years ago.

This will be my first time experiencing the death of a loved one as an atheist. Two years ago when my grandmother died, I was still in the questioning phase. I thought, "Maybe she is in some sort of conscious afterlife." I didn't know, and I even though I tried to convince myself that I was fine not knowing, I was really uneasy.

Now I know. And I've made peace with that.

A few days ago, my mother asked me what gives me hope in times like these. I immediately thought of this quote from Richard Dawkins:

We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Arabia. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively exceeds the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here.We privileged few, who won the lottery of birth against all odds, how dare we whine at our inevitable return to that prior state from which the vast majority have never stirred?

And that's what gives me hope:  I am alive right now. I, we, the entire human race--we all beat the odds to get here. Our pre-human ancestors survived the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs. We adapted and evolved while millions of other species became extinct. Our brains developed so that we can explore our world, define ourselves, and, most importantly, create something beautiful. Some of our mothers had miscarriages before we were born. We are the lucky ones, because we are here. Right now. You and I.

Most people think atheists have a very nihilistic view of life. "We're all going to die, and there's no divine plan, so what's the point?" I used to think that, but now I see secularism as a life-affirming philosophy. We're here just for a short time, so let's be thankful that we have this golden opportunity to live right now.

"And one day we will die
and our ashes will fly
from the aeroplane over the sea
But for now we are young
Let us lay in the sun
and count every beautiful thing we can see"--Neutral Milk Hotel

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Bisexuality Does Not Reinforce the Gender Binary

CW: Biphobia, Cissexism

There's a common myth that bisexuality reinforces the gender binary. People believe that since bi means two, bisexuality means attraction to men and women only, therefore excluding those who identify outside the gender binary. Many non-monosexuals  use pansexual as an alternative, since pansexuality means attraction to all genders. I have no problem with people identifying as pansexual, but I am sick and tired of pansexuals constantly saying bisexuals like me are only reinforcing binarism. Little do they know that a). most bisexuals do not use the binarist definition of bisexuality and b). many bisexuals actually identify outside the gender binary.

First of all, while bi does mean two, it does not mean men and women necessarily. As Verity Ritchie explains:

Heterosexual comes from the word hetros, which means "different." Homosexual comes from the word homo, which means "the same." So if you were to apply the word bi--which means "two"--if we apply this in the same way we apply hetro-and homosexuality, then we've got "different" and "the same." So bisexuals are attracted to people who are different and people who are the same.

Also, Ritchie points out that the term bisexual was first used to describe plants, not people. When the term was applied to human sexuality, people knew very little--if anything--about non-binary genders. So if someone had relations with people of more than one gender, "bisexual" was the only word available.

(By the way, Verity Ritchie is genderqueer.)

It's interesting to note that very few bisexuals use the "men and women" definition of bisexuality; most people who use the "men and women" definition are not bisexual. So most of this binarism and cissexism comes from outside the bisexual community. Yes, there are bisexuals who are cissexist, and we need to address cissexism within the bisexual community. But as Shiri Eisner points out in Bi: Notes for a Bisexual Revolution, the bisexual movement has historically been one of the most loyal allies for the transgender community.

Eisner (who also identifies as genderqueer), writes about how the bisexuality community in their native Israel came from the local transgender community:

In this, our community inherited much of the discourse and politics of the Israeli transgender movement. The bi community here is led by mainly trans and genderqueer people, and many people in the community itself also identify as such. In a way, it might be said that our community is also a trans community. In particular, it has been a home for many genderqueer people (rather than transsexual people, who are the main focus of the trans community). Thus, our community fills two gaps left by other queer and trans spaces:  one for bisexuals, and one for genderqueer people.

Because of this, Eisner has seen many bisexuals come out as trans or non-binary, and many trans people come out as bi.

Elsewhere in their book, Eisner writes about the similarities between bisexuality and transgender:

In a world that presumes one is born a certain way (male, female, gay, straight) and cannot change, both bisexuality and transgender offer the options of mutability and change. Bisexuality encompasses changes that happen throughout lengths of time, as opposed to isolating moments in people's lives and essentializing their identities. Transgender requires long-term viewpoints that allow for change over time, as opposed to the assignment of a single, immutable gender that "can never be changed."

In other words, sexuality and gender are not always fixed points:  they can be fluid.

As a genderqueer bisexual myself, I've personally experienced the fluidity of sexuality and gender. Sometimes I lean more towards women, sometimes men, and sometimes non-binary people. Sometimes I lean more towards masculinity, sometimes femininity, and sometimes androgyny. I never felt like I fit into any one particular box, and I'm thankful that I've found an entire community online of people who smash gender and sexual binaries.

Now let's smash sexual and gender binaries together!

(BTW, if you're curious about my preferred pronouns, either he/him or they/them will do.)

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Bisexual . . . and Asexual?

CN: Sex

There's a common myth that all bisexuals are hyper-sexual beings who have can't be monogamous and/or would "fuck anything that moves." That's not true. Yes, there are some bisexuals who are polyamorous, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that at all (as long as all partners agree). And yes, there are some bisexuals who are "promiscuous" (I added the quotation marks because who's to say how many partners is too much?). But there are also plenty of bisexuals who are monogamous, and there are some bisexuals who are actually asexual.

Asexuality is the lack of sexual attraction towards people. It's estimated that 1% of the population identifies as asexual, making asexuality one of the least understood sexual orientations. For starters, asexuality is not celibacy; celibacy is a choice not to have sex. Second, asexuals can, in fact, experience attraction and even arousal, but don't desire to engage in sexual activity with other people. Third, asexuals can be romantically attracted to anyone of any gender. Asexuals can fall in love with either the same sex (homoromantic), the opposite sex (heteromantic), or anyone of any gender (biromantic and panromantic). Or no one at all (aromantic).

Like bisexuality, asexuality is a big umbrella term for people who experience little to no sexual attraction. Some asexuals are demisexuals, which means they only develop sexual feelings with someone after developing a deep emotional bond. Others are considered gray-asexuals, which is a "gray" area between being sexual and asexual. The Asexuality Visibility and Education Network (AVEN) defines a gray-asexual as "Someone who identifies with the area between asexuality and sexuality, for example because they experience sexual attraction very rarely, only under specific circumstances, or of an intensity so low that it's ignorable."

I'm at a place where I'm questioning my own allosexuality (allosexual is the opposite of asexual). I don't identify as full-on asexual; I do experience attractions to people. However, when it comes to actually having sex with someone, I'm pretty iffy. I've done stuff with my past partners, but I honestly felt closer to them just kissing them and holding their hands. It's made dating tough, though. Especially with this guy I briefly dated a few months ago. He was already talking about sleeping with me within a week of meeting me, and I felt really uncomfortable so I pushed him away. I should have explained how I felt, but I didn't have the words to describe how I felt. Now I do.

Sexuality doesn't always come in tiny little boxes. Most of the time it's like a big ball of wibby-wobbly sexy-wexy stuff (yes, that is a Doctor Who reference). And that's cool.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

What Mark Driscoll Should Do On His Six-Week Break

Today Mark Driscoll, pastor of Seattle's Mars Hill Church, announced he will step down from the ministry for the next six weeks. During that time, Driscoll said he will not do any speaking gigs, he will postpone the release of his next book, and he will meet with "a professional team of mature Christians who provide wise counsel to help further [his] personal development and maturity before God and men."

It's been a long time coming.

For years, bloggers have told their stories about how they experienced spiritual abuse at Mars Hill. A few days ago, twenty-one former Mars Hill pastors filed charges against Driscoll, claiming he "engaged in a pattern of abusive and intimidating conduct and that he has not changed his domineering behavior." In today's statement, Driscoll apologized to everyone he hurt, and believes God "is making me [Driscoll] more like Him every day." (Which is funny, because he tends to act just like the wrathful smite-everything-that-moves Old Testament God.)

Perhaps Driscoll does want to change. Or maybe this is just another round of empty promises that a lot of abusers make before they go right back to their old ways. I don't know, but there is one thing I'd like to see Driscoll do during his sabbatical.

I want Driscoll to sit down with every person he has ever hurt emotionally, mentally, and/or spiritually, and listen to their stories. I want him to hear first hand how much his words and actions have hurt people--the very same people that trusted him as their spiritual leader. And I don't want Driscoll to say anything; he's had plenty of time to speak his mind. This would be the time for him to finally listen. To get a full grasp of what he has done. To see the damage he's caused.

As I've said before, an apology without action means nothing. So Christians, I wouldn't start forgiving Driscoll just yet.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Victim Blaming--The Michael Brown Edition

CN:  Racism, violence, rape.

See the above picture? I found this on a website called The Conservative Treehouse, and it's a perfect example of the latest batch of victim blaming towards Michael Brown, the unarmed eighteen-year-old boy killed by a police officer last week.

It started Friday when the press revealed Brown was a suspect in a store robbery. However, it was later revealed that Officer Darren Wilson, the officer who shot and killed Brown, did not know Brown was a suspect. Nevertheless, there's no doubt in my mind that little details about Brown's life--from the above photographs to other possible mistakes--will be all over the press to suggest that maybe, just maybe, Brown brought this all upon himself.

Welcome to Victim Blaming--The Racism Edition!

We've seen this before. Last year Mr. Conservative posted pictures "proving" that Trayvon Marin was a "thug." Likewise, people like to keep bringing up the fact that Renisha McBride was drunk the night she was shot and killed. And of course, there's the fact that Rodney King was driving drunk the night the LA police beat him.

Here's the thing, though. It doesn't matter if Brown really did steal those cigars. It doesn't matter if Martin smoked pot. It doesn't matter if McBride and King were drunk. Brown, Martin, and McBride did not deserve to die. King did not deserve to be beaten like an animal. How is this not hard to understand?

We usually see victim blaming in rape cases. "Well, if you didn't drink so much or wear that dress, this wouldn't have happened." We see the same thing happening to black people who get killed. "Well, if he didn't look like a thug, this wouldn't have happened."

Ezra Klein of Vox sums it up perfectly:

This case is not about whether Michael Brown was One Of The Good Ones. It's not even about whether he robbed a convenience store. The penalty for stealing cigars from a convenience store is not death. This case is about whether Wilson was legally justified in shooting Michael Brown.

Is that so hard to understand?

Friday, August 1, 2014

Christians Need To Call Out Their Own

(Picture credit:  Pensees)

Trigger warning:  Sexism, homphobia, Mark Driscoll bullshit in general.

I don't have enough hands to count all the problematic things Mark Driscoll, pastor of Seattle's Mars Hill Church, has said and done. For this blog post, I will only focus on the most recent incident, which actually comes from past comments he made.

In his 2009 memoir Confessions of a Reformission Rev, Driscoll revealed that he used to troll Mars Hill's online forum under the name William Wallace II (a Braveheart reference). Well, after years of research (thanks to WenatcheeTheHatchet), Driscoll's online rants are now available online for the whole world to see. And boy, aren't they doozies!

Here's a sample:

(Click to see it enlarged)

Cue the head explosion!

The worst part is how Christians are responding. 

Brandan Robertson of Revangelical recently wrote about the latest Driscoll snafu. He makes it clear that he does not condone Driscoll, and that he is "100% responsible" for his actions. But Robertson reminds his readers of Jesus' commandment to pray for their enemies, so he ends his blog post saying Christians should "be willing to step out of the mob" and pray for Driscoll.

I admire Robertson's humility. However, I think the whole "pray for your enemies" thing is too often used as a cop-out from calling people out who need to be called out. Especially with all the reports of former Mars Hill members experiencing spiritual abuse.

Christian blogger Matthew Paul Turner says it best:

Grace is not a hashtag.
Grace is not “giving the benefit of the doubt.”
Grace is not passive or passive aggressive.
Grace does not harbor abusers.
Grace is not something to be demanded just because the conversation makes you uncomfortable.
Grace is not an excuse to remain silent.
Yes, grace is an idea filled with uncertainty. It’s a balancing act. It’s nonsensical. It’s otherworldly.

But grace is also present. Grace is intentional. Grace is active.

Grace is not a middle man negotiating a deal between bullshit and pain.

Sometimes grace calls out bullshit. Sometimes grace brings hope to those in pain.

But I cannot believe that grace would ever stand in the middle and remain silent.

Most Christians see Jesus as a peaceful lovey-dovey guy. Yes, he did preach grace and love (or at least according to the Bible). But Jesus also overturned tables. Jesus called the Pharisees a "brood of vipers" and "blind fools" right in their faces. If Christians care about the hurt and afflicted--especially done in the name of their own religion--they should have the courage to speak up. If there is an infection in the Body of Christ, the church needs to do something about it.

And for the love of all things good, don't give me that "We're not all like that" crap! Say "Too many of us are like that" instead. Call out your own. Stand on the side of the afflicted. If you want to prove that you're "not like that," prove it!

Because I hate to break it to you, but your prayers for Driscoll aren't being heard.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

There's No Such Thing As Mild Sexual Assault, Richard Dawkins

Trigger warning:  rape, sexual assault.

It all started innocently enough when Richard Dawkins posted this tweet this morning:

Fair enough. And I agree to an extent. For example, believing that the Koran is the Word of God is bad, but killing people in the name of Allah is worse. I don't condone either one.

Then Dawkins took a sharp left turn onto Stupid Road:

And the cherry on top of the shit sundae:

Excuse me while my head explodes Scanners style.

He then went on trying to mansplain to people on Twitter what he meant to say, only to dig himself in a hole even deeper. Several atheist bloggers called him out, including Hemant Mehta, Rebecca Watson, and PZ Myers. Dawkins responded with a blog post explaining what he was trying to get at:

I wasn’t even saying it is RIGHT to rank one kind of rape as worse than another (that caused an immense amount of agony and a scarcely creditable level of vitriolic abuse in the Twittosphere). You may be one of those who thinks all forms of rape are EQUALLY bad, and should not, in principle be ranked at all, ever. In that case my logical point won’t be relevant to you and you don’t need to take offence (although you might have trouble being a judge who is expected to give heavier sentences for worse versions of the same crime). All I was saying is that IF you are one of those who is prepared to say that one kind of rape is worse than another (whichever particular kinds those might be), this doesn’t imply that you approve of the less bad one. It is still bad. Just not AS bad.

Here's the thing, though:  There is no such thing as mild sexual assault. Any form of sexual assault is an act of violence. Whether it's your boyfriend coercing you into sex or some guy hiding out in an alley with a gun in his hand, it's all the same. When a person does not give consent to what is being done to their body, it is an act of violence.

This isn't the first time Dawkins tried to mansplain the difference between "mild" sexual assault and "really bad" sexual assault. Last year in his memoir An Appetite for Wonder, he revealed that a schoolteacher put his hands down his pants when Dawkins was a child. Dawkins said since it was "mild pedophilia," it wasn't that bad (although he never condoned what the schoolteacher did). Dawkins later apologized.

And to think that this is the same brilliant mind who wrote The God Delusion.