Wednesday, October 22, 2014

I'm Not A Faitheist, But . . .


A few weeks ago I wrote how I might be a "faitheist" a la Chris Stedman and Nonprophet Status. Needless to say, I got a lot of criticism for it, especially on /r/atheism. So I think I should probably clarify a few things.

First of all, I'm not a faitheist. I admire Stedman and what he's doing (plus I think he's cute). However, I feel Stedman doesn't criticize religion enough. I've yet to hear him address the problems that are often motivated by religion:  suicide bombings, female genital mutilation, blasphemy laws, colonization, wars, the caste system, queer homelessness, etc. True, there are other factors that fuel these atrocities, like racism, misogyny, and homophobia. But it's easier to get away with oppression if you wrap it in religion.

Having said that, though, I do agree with Stedman on some things.

For starters, while moderate religious people often toss the No True Scotsman card to distance themselves from religious fanatics, atheists can be just as guilty. The only difference is some atheists paint ALL religious people as fanatics, and that's simply not true. As Heina Dadabhoy said in our interview the other day:

My greater concern lies with [Sam] Harris, who claims to be in favor of reforming Islam but keeps insisting that Muslims who don't for instance "behead infidels" are Muslims who aren't serious about their faith. There are Muslims who take Islam very seriously yet don't perpetuate violence, and Muslim who do violence in the name of Islam yet don't practice it very closely. I personally think that encouraging progressive and reformist Muslims is much better practice than telling Muslims that by not being violent, they aren't being serious about their faith.

In Christian circles, I've met several Christians who as passionate about social justice as I am. I'm not talking about the watered down version of social justice that the Emergent Church preaches. I'm talking about folks like Suey Park, Eliel Cruz, and Sarah Moon: activists who shake up the white-dominated heteropatriarchy. I disagree with them about God, but I agree with them on everything else.

So there you have it. Not a faitheist, but agrees with Stedman to a certain extent. Got that?

Monday, October 20, 2014

Interview with an Ex-Muslim: Six Questions with Heina Dadabhoy


Heina Dadabhoy is an ex-Muslim, an atheist, and a feminist whose blog Heinous Dealings can be found at Freethought Blogs. They blog about the intersection of religion, gender, sexuality, culture, and feminism. Naturally I thought it would be great to interview them for this blog. And so, without further ado, here's Heina:

What was your childhood like growing up Muslim?

My early childhood was pretty typical suburbanite Californian American: engineer father, stay-at-home mother, one younger sibling. Our weekly treat was Happy Meals at MacDonald's. I wore the skorts that were so fashionable in the early 90's and played AYSO soccer. I knew that we were different from the majority because we were Muslim, but given that I grew up in an area with a large Jewish and Asian population, not eating pork or being Christian hardly marked me as an outsider.

Everything changed when I was about 5 years old. My parents became more and more religious. They decided that the best course for our family would be to move to another country. A year later, we returned to the United States, but my stint in a London Islamic girls' school surrounded by very observant Muslims changed me as a person.

As a literal, bookish, and obedient child, I took everything I read about Islam very seriously and practiced it to the best of my ability. I wept nightly at the sins I had committed and for the good deeds I could have done had I been a better Muslimah. Allah wasn't the only person I begged in the hopes of not going to hell: I wanted my father to throw out the television and stop listening to the radio and for them to send me away to a religious boarding school. Though I went to Islamic schools for first through seventh grade, I was bullied quite a bit because my peers saw me as a kiss-up for how devoted I was. Members of my own family mocked my religious fervor as well. I have very little nostalgia for the joys of childhood. I spent most of it tortured by other human beings and scared of Allah's wrath.

What made you decide to leave Islam?

I don't really know if losing my faith was a decision, though ceasing my practice of Islam definitely was. I lost my faith in a process that started slowly but intensified exponentially.

I experienced my first doubt when I was eleven years old. My sister had been brutally mangled in a carnival ride accident on mosque grounds. After she had been rushed into the trauma ward of the hospital, my family and I anxiously waited for news from the doctor about her condition. When they told us that there had been no brain damage, tears and gratitude to Allah flowed from everyone but me. My wry reaction was to wonder why Allah didn't stop the accident from happening in the first place. I immediately quashed the thought, but the years following were punctuated with the occasional blasphemous thought.

By the time I started attending university at age 17, I had learned about existentialism as well as figured out that not everything Islam said was 100% scientifically correct. I still identified strongly as a Muslim and practiced Islam, but my grip was tenuous. The final push came from my study of the writings of Augustine in a history of philosophy course. It dawned on me that many religions use the same theological justifications to defend the "logic" of belief, but somehow end up both killing each others' followers over it and saying that it's a matter of faith rather than reason. Over the course of a few months, I went from waffling devotee to atheist.

For a short period, I was an atheist in a headscarf. I had no idea what to do or how to live without Islamic practices. I eventually eased my way out of them.

You've written about identifying as an ex-Muslim besides an atheist. Tell us about that.

Islam was my life for eighteen years. As part of my background, it affects my ideas and perceptions of the world. The religion continues to deeply affect the way in which my family members live. There's no way that I could say that I'm just an atheist. Being a former Muslim leaves me indelibly marked in more ways than I can say, and probably in ways that I will only realize in the future.

There's a lot of controversy surrounding how folks like Sam Harris and Bill Maher criticize Islam. What do they get right and what do they get wrong?

Bill Maher criticizes Islam in his normal nuance-free, blustering style, the same tone by which he promotes other forms of bigotry. I disagree with him but I also disagree with him on almost everything else. My greater concern lies with Harris, who claims to be in favor of reforming Islam but keeps insisting that Muslims who don't for instance "behead infidels" are Muslims who aren't serious about their faith. There are Muslims who take Islam very seriously yet don't perpetuate violence, and Muslim who do violence in the name of Islam yet don't practice it very closely. I personally think that encouraging progressive and reformist Muslims is much better practice than telling Muslims that by not being violent, they aren't being serious about their faith.

Tell us about the book you're working on, A Skeptic's Guide to Islam.

I wanted to write a book that explained some Islam 101 items from the perspective of someone who doesn't see Muslims as Other but also who isn't trying to convince anyone that Islam is the best thing. It's intended to be a starting point for people looking to better understand and further explore Islam.

Here at Bi Any Means, I try to explain how social justice and secular humanism intersect. How do the two intersect in your life?

Secular humanism is my framework for my worldview. Social justice informs the actions I take that reinforce and promote that worldview. In other words, I engage in social justice because I am a secular humanist.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Confessions of a "Sensitive Nice Guy" Douchebag

(Picture found on Examiner.com)

TW:  Rape, Misogyny, Sexism, Mental Illness

When it comes to sexism and misogyny, most people automatically think of dudebros. You know the type:  the hyper-masculine alpha male fratboy who wears that "Cool story, babe, now go make me a sandwich" t-shirt. The guy who sees sex as a conquest, and will stop at nothing to claim his prize (even if it means raping a girl). We all know that guy. We all know he's up to no good. Guys like Mark Driscoll and Ray Rice are the poster boys for misogyny, just like the Westboro Baptist Church is for homophobia.

But dudebros don't hold a monopoly on misogyny. There's another group of men that are just as bad:  the Sensitive Nice Guys.

Robyn Pennacchia at Death and Taxes writes:

They are always the first to lock arms with you and rail against sexism coming from these other types of men. They are always happy to poke fun at Pat Robertson saying something horrifically misogynistic. They like to think of themselves as “the good guys” and the jocks and bros as “the bad guys.”

In some ways, these men align themselves with women. They were perhaps even picked on by the same “bro-dudes” that they believe are the sort of men that victimize women. Which is why they get all the more touchy when criticized for behaving exactly like them.

The Sensitive Nice Guy may seem harmless at first. He listens to what women have to say. He gives his female friends a shoulder to lean on when they are victimized by dudebros. He may have even read Audre Lorde. But deep inside of him, he's still controlled by male entitlement. He thinks that because he's against rape, women are obliged to date him. And when women say, "I don't think of you that way," the Sensitive Nice Guy gets angry, creepy, and even threatening. But the Sensitive Nice Guy doesn't realize this. He still sees himself as the Sensitive Nice Guy; it's the women who are full of shit.

I know this because I am a Sensitive Nice Guy.

Last year I made a friend:  a genderqueer DFAB. We loved the same kinds of music, books, movies, and craft beers. We were both feminists. We were both queer. We became friends fast. We had beers nearly every weekend, and talked about music, feminism, and queer politics. We would watch Twin Peaks together. We saw one of our favorite rappers, Milo, perform in Baltimore. Because I can't relate to about 90% of humanity (I don't know if I have an undiagnosed mental disorder like Borderline Personality Disorder or Asperger's, or if I'm just an odd duck) I was so happy to meet someone I could finally talk to about the things that mattered to me the most.

Then I did a stupid thing:  I developed feelings. They said they didn't think of me that way, and I said I was okay, but it was pretty obviously that I wasn't. I would make comments here and there that made them uncomfortable. It finally got to a point where they finally said they needed space, and that we could no longer be as close as we used to be. At first I hated them for that, but eventually I realized that I was to blame. We talk occasionally now, but we're no longer close. We are, as they describe it, amicable acquaintances.

I still beat myself up about it. Here I am, a genderqueer feminist who's always on Tumblr reblogging posts about sexism and misogyny, and I'm guilty of the same sins I preach against. Shiri Eisner once wrote that we can all be both oppressed and oppressors, but it isn't until you see yourself oppressing someone that it finally hits you.

So here's my plea to all other Sensitive Nice Guys:  STOP IT! Nobody owes you shit for being nice. You owe it to everyone else not to be a douchebag.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Am I a Faitheist? Maybe


Last year I read Chris Stedman's memoir Faitheist: How an Atheist Found Common Ground with the Religious, and I haven't stopped thinking about it since. I was a baby atheist at the time, and I didn't want to align myself with the so-called New Atheists like Richard Dawkins, so I fell in love instantly with Stedman. After all, I don't think being religious makes anyone less of a person (but it certainly doesn't make you any better, either).

Having said that, I don't know if I would consider myself to be a "faitheist." I'm still very critical of religion, and I think it does more harm than good. But I try not to be an asshole about it, so maybe I'm a faitheist after all?

This past week, the faitheist blog Nonprophet Status (which Stedman co-created, but no longer blogs at) posted their Ten Commandments of Faitheism. The commandments are as followed:

1) God probably isn’t real. 

Well, I can certainly agree with that. For years I tried to reconcile faith and science. After all, God is spirit, not matter, so you can't test God in a lab, right? Then I realized that energy isn't matter, either, but we have plenty of evidence that that exists. Of course there's no way to actually disprove God, but you can't disprove the Flying Spaghetti Monster, either.

2) Attacking people is a bad way to change their mind. This has been folk wisdom for as long as people have been talking about persuasion, but it’s been backed up in recent years by a host of psychological research. All anti-theists often bring to counter this claim is a collection of anecdotes, but no one would take these seriously for any other kind of empirical claim about what is or isn’t effective. Research shows criticism is almost always unproductive, and usually leaves the instigator feeling morally superior and both parties walking away more convinced of what they originally believed.

This is most certainly true. Anyone can tell you that having a preacher yell at you about hell and damnation is not going to win converts. Neither will calling religious people stupid. However, I'm all for criticizing religion as an idea. If atheists spent more time deconstructing religious beliefs than calling religious people names, maybe we'd win more converts.

3) More atheists won’t necessarily make the world a better place. Atheism is inherently neither good nor bad. The wealth of a nation and its secularization are pretty strongly correlated, with any outliers easily explained away. Improving the quality of life and adding stability to people’s lives in our own nations and across the globe seems like the quicker and easier way to a more secular world. Trying to deconvert believers isn’t an effective way to increase the number of atheists, and does nothing to make the world better. 

I do think we'd be better off without religion, but getting rid of religion won't automatically create utopia. There will still be racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, and poverty. People just won't be able to oppress others in the name of God anymore, that's all.

Everything intersects; taking out just one small fraction won't fix everything.

4) Whatever goals we do have for making the world a better place require cooperation with the religious. Gay rights were not an atheist victory. Civil rights were not an atheist victory. Women’s suffrage was not an atheist victory. Gender and sexuality equality will not be an atheist victory. We simply lack the numbers to cause meaningful change, and it’s much more pragmatic to work alongside the religious whose values we share than it is to deconvert the majority of our nation. 

I have no problem working with like-minded religious people in making the world a less shitty place. If there's a church marching for LGBTQ rights, I'll march along with them. If an interfaith group invites me to volunteer with them at the local homeless shelter, I'll join them (as long as nobody proselytizes anyone else).

As far as gay rights, civil rights, and women's suffrage not being atheist victories, I don't know. But I will say this--fundamentalism didn't help these causes at all!

5) Religion is not a monolith. For better or worse, religions are larger than their foundational texts. Religions are individual and social phenomena lived and expressed and transmitted and transformed through diverse human beings and diverse human communities. There is not one Christianity, there are Christianities. There is not one Islam, there are Islams. Of course moderate muslims say that their Islam is the true Islam, and extremists say that their Islam is the true Islam, but that’s because they’re assuming their religion is true. Given that 1) God probably isn’t real, atheists can’t play the “no true Scotsman” card and say what a religion really is. To point out here that the Islam practiced by our neighbors is not the Islam practiced in Somalia is no gesture at all toward true Islam. 

Yes, exactly! I'm getting sick of atheists saying that all Christians or all Muslims think the same. I've met Christians who don't believe Hindus are going to hell, and I've met Muslims who don't want to blow people up. What people fail to realize is nobody actually follows holy texts to the letter:  everybody interprets their text. Why do you think there's so many different branches of Christianity?

If you want to criticize religious people, at least find out what they actually believe first.

6) Given the hard-to-define-ness of a religion, it isn’t clear how much religious belief causes anything. Scientists, however, are very good at parsing out causal relationships. Causal relations are empirical claims about the world. If you think religion causes behavior, find a psychological or sociological study to support it. Correlation is not causation, and armchair theorizing on empirical matters is a waste of time. Anecdotal evidence is not evidence, and saying that the data isn’t there because of overly politically correct scientists puts you on par with those who deny climate-change or the effectiveness of psychiatry and traditional medicines because the scientists were paid-off. 

This goes back to what I said for commandment #5. Yes, people do shitty things in the name of religion, but sometimes it's because people incorporate their own biases into their theology. People make God into their own image (which is why religion is so dangerous).

7) Dogmatism is bad, whether religious or secular. Atheists, as human beings, are just as prone to tribalism and bias. An understanding of science does not make you less prone to fallacious reasoning than anyone else. 

That's my biggest criticism of the New Atheist movement. On one hand, they say they'll gladly change their minds when presented with evidence, but once you try to show them evidence of their own sexism, they get defensive. (Dawkins, I'm looking at you!)

8) Minorities and marginalized groups are not props. The suffering of religious people aren’t opportunities to score cheap rhetorical points against religion. You shouldn’t exploit slavery or domestic violence to one-up believers. Deconverted religious fundamentalists are not poster children up until they say something nice about the religious communities they left. 

THANK YOU!!!!!

9) The problem atheists face in the West is a PR problem. Far too often, atheist awareness-raising is done through confrontation. We need to move beyond insensitive billboards and jumping on every opportunity to score points against religion. If our goal is to end atheist stigmatization, our first step should be to stop embodying negative atheist stereotypes.  

Now here's where I disagree. Sometimes we need confrontation. When religion is being used to oppress others, there's no time to play nice. Plus, if you read Friendly Atheist, you'll see that atheists do a lot more than just criticize religion. Hemant Mehta blogs about atheist charities all the time. The mainstream media just ignores them, that's all.

Having said that, if Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Bill Maher are the poster boys for atheism, we can do a hell of a lot better!

10) “Faitheist” is a term for a strawman. When people criticize “faitheists,” they aren’t criticizing anybody. It’s at best a strawman, and at worst a simple ad hominem, on the same level of maturity and intellectual honesty as a bully who changes a child’s last name to include the word “fart” in it. Coyning [sic] the term “accommodatheist” is no better.

Atheism ain't a monolith, either. I can certainly understand people's criticisms of so-called faitheists, but I don't think faitheists are any less atheist.

Although I'm hesitant to call myself a faitheist, I think the movement does have its merits. We need a better way to criticize religion than the tired old "OMG U BELIEVE IN A MAN IN THE SKY UR STUPID LOL!!!!" method. As people who thrive on human reason, we can certainly come up with better arguments against religion, right? However, the reason I don't call myself a faitheist is I feel like faitheists aren't critical enough of religion. Any ideology that comes from an ancient book of pre-scientific era men trying to make sense of the world cannot be the basis of living in the 21st century.

But we can certainly learn something from the faitheists, right?

Friday, September 26, 2014

Gender Is A Social Construct, Not Ordained By God

TW: Transphobia, Cissexism, Matt Walsh, Mark Driscoll

Our friend Matt Walsh is at it again. I'm not even going to bother quoting his latest piece of shit blog post. The title alone--You Were Born a Man or a Woman. You Don't Get to Choose--should be enough to tell you what kind of transphobia and cissexism he's spouting off now. Seriously, this man needs to get a fucking life! He spends all this time sitting behind the computer pointing his self-righteous finger at anything and anyone that doesn't fit his "biblical worldview." It's times like these that I thank God I'm an atheist.

And no, Matt Walsh isn't just some lunatic fringe Christian like Fred Phelps. This is the kind of shit I've been hearing from Christians all my life.

I can't tell you how many times I've heard preachers talk about "God-ordained" gender roles. According to the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, "Distinctions in masculine and feminine roles are ordained by God as part of the created order, and should find an echo in every human heart (Gen 2:18, 21-24; 1 Cor 11:7-9; 1 Tim 2:12-14)." Ken Ham's Answers in Genesis says, "God created man [sic] male and female—Adam and Eve—and He made males and females different physically and distinct in their roles." And then there's good ol' Mark Driscoll, who once said stay-at-home dads are worse than unbelievers. Because Jesus, that's why!

There's just one little problem:  gender is a social construct, not ordained by God.

The moment the doctor looks at your genitalia and declares either "It's a boy" or "It's a girl," society starts raising you how to be either a boy or a girl. We give baby DMABs (designated male at birth) blue clothes and DFABs (designated female at birth) pink clothes. DMABs are supposed to play with action figures while DFABs are supposed to play with dolls. DMABs and DFABs are supposed to play certain roles in relationships. DMABs are told to let their body hair grow wild, while DFABs are told to shave everything except their heads. Most people go along with the plan, but for some of us, we get the hint early on that it's all bullshit.

Granted when it comes to anatomy, there are certain things I can and cannot do. I cannot bear children, for starters. But biology alone doesn't determine the clothes we wear, or the roles we play in society. Humans decide what DMABs and DFABs should do. And just like with all other social constructs, we say that God ordained our concepts of gender to make them sound more legit.

Growing up, I always felt like I was both a boy and a girl at the same time. I didn't know nonbinary genders existed, of course, so I just went along with the program and let society try to stuff me into a gender box. Even then, though, I knew something wasn't right, but I couldn't put my finger on it. Now I finally have to guts to be open with my genderqueer identity, and challenge other people's perceptions of gender.

So fuck Matt Walsh, fuck Mark Driscoll, fuck the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, and fuck anybody else that tells me I have to be a certain way. I define myself.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Why I Need Bi Visibility Day


TW: Biphobia, rape

Because people still assume that I'm either gay or straight.

Because Larry King thought that since Anna Paquin is married, she was a "non-practicing bisexual."

Because even though Freddie Mercury had a serious relationship with Mary Austin, even referring to her as "the love of [his] life," people still think he was 100% gay.

Because even though John Constantine has slept with men and women in the original comics, NBC is making him straight for television.

Because a guy I was in a relationship with two years ago told me he was going to end my "addiction to pussy."

Because even though the show Glee prides itself for being pro-LGBT, the show regularly shits on bisexuals.

Because studies show that bisexual women are more likely to be raped or abused than straight women and lesbians. However, whenever confronted with this statistic, some lesbians say it's because bi women are "sexually available to men." (In other words, if you don't go for the d, this won't happen.)

Because bi women are seen as nothing more than the objects of cishet men's threesome fantasies.

Because I'm tired of gay and lesbian people not owning their monosexual privilege.

Because I'm tired of coercive passing.

Because I'm tired of being seen as an ally for the LGBT community and not at actual member.

Because I'm tired of nobody talking about bisexuality in LGBT groups.

Because I'm tired of being the ugly redheaded stepchild of the LGBT community.

Feel free to add your own reasons in the comment section below.

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