Thursday, July 26, 2012

An atheist's reply to "A Catholic's Reply to 'How to Suck at Your Religion'"

This is going to make people mad, but whatever. Matthew Inman of created a web comic titled "How To Suck At Your Religion." The comic has ruffled a lot of feathers and one religious (in this case, Catholic) blogger decided to refute the comic, panel by panel. However, he doesn't seem to realize that his arguments are all pretty asinine and rely heavily on the reader having the firm belief that Christianity isn't so much religion as fact. No. That doesn't work. I'm going to go point by point and show why his arguments don't work.

1. The first panel of the comic shows presumably a Catholic priest saying "Thou shalt not judge! Unless you don't belong to our church and then I judge that you're going straight to hell." The religious blogger says that this panel is erroneous because the Catholic church has never "declared anyone in Hell" in the way that it would canonize saints. This argument is hopelessly naive. For starters, Inman is hardly leveling this observation at Catholics alone. Yes, the character in the panel has a priest's collar but that has more to do with the familiarity of that image than a singular chastisement of one particular faith. More importantly, whether or not anyone has ever been "officially" declared to be hell-bound, anyone who has spent time on a college campus, walked through the busier parts of town, or even had the audacity to answer their doorbell has most likely been informed of just what awful sinners they are for not believing in religion X. My own grandmother told me I was going to hell for not believing in her religion.

2. Galileo. Oh, Galileo. The blogger's argument that Galileo's treatment by the Catholic church is misunderstood links us to an article on (which we can be assured is totally objective) in which Galileo is depicted as a megalomaniac who essentially bullied the Catholic Church into reluctantly persecuting him. The article even characterizes Galileo as "intent on ramming Copernicus down the throat of Christendom." This is kind of hilarious and hypocritical considering that Christendom was doing it's own ideological throat-ramming with its Inquisitions at the same time. The article is a, um, neat read.

3. The blogger actually equates stem cell research with Mengele's human experimentation in Nazi Germany. He actually draws this comparison. For real. He also makes the claim that there's a scientific consensus as to when life begins but there actually isn't! There isn't even a religious consensus! So, yeah, that there's a big, fat lie.

4. Inman argues against parents choosing their kids' religious views for them. This is pretty much the only area where I can see where the blogger is coming from. A great deal of parenting has to do with teaching your children how to be good people and to many, that means they have to be religious people. However, I do agree with Inman that children shouldn't be discouraged to question and find answers on their own. That's another big part of being a parent - getting your kids to the point where they can start making these big decisions for themselves.

5. The blogger really shoots himself in the foot here. He's making his way toward a legitimate argument and then lets it all fall apart when he conflates encouraging a child to come to their own conclusions about the afterlife to saying that the answer to "what's 3 x 3" is changeable according the child's fancies. No. A mathematical formula is not akin to religious belief. Can you imagine if math was as ambiguous and changeable and mysterious as religion? Do you think we could build things if measurements were always subject to someone's personal convictions? Sorry, Catholic blogger guy, that was a dumbass argument.

6. The blogger really misses the point, here. Right now, at this very moment, citizens of the U.S. are being actively denied basic rights because of religion. People are being told that they are immoral, sick, wrong, and subhuman because of the way certain religious people view their sexuality. And since I'm picking apart a Catholic blog, what about the church's long history of sexual abuse of children by priests? Isn't that messed up? Couldn't that have something to do with the church's treatment of sex which, to paraphrase Stephen Frye, is akin to an anorexic or bulimic attitude toward food? It's disingenuous to deny that religion hasn't played a pretty big role in why people have anxieties about sex and sexuality.

7. This is just silly. I have personal experience with door-to-door proselytizing and it's annoying at best and infuriating and invasive at worst. In this day and age when information is literally at our fingertips thanks to modern technology, is it really necessary to darken someone's doorstep with your unsolicited beliefs and opinions? If someone is looking for Jesus or a reserved seat on the rocket to Kolob, they can find the resources they need. It's great that you're looking out for my spiritual well-being but could you please take a moment and look at it from my perspective? I won't knock on your door and try to convince you of my beliefs, please extend to me that same courtesy.

8. Blogger, do you realize that to a non-religious individual that this is how your religion sounds to many of us? In my mind, Scientology and Catholicism are equally bizarre. It's not just Scientology and Catholicism that are strange and ridiculous to me, it's every religion. There are good things sprinkled throughout a bunch of illogical rambling about hidden kingdoms for good people vs. horrible dungeons for bad people and invisible whatsits that tell you what to do and resurrections and strange laws about what to do if your neighbor's donkey falls into a pit that you dug.

9. People vote according to their religious beliefs all the time, which is why people will consistently vote for someone who doesn't have their best interests at heart but will really stick it to "teh gays." Also, stop bringing up the mythical scientific consensus about when life begins. THERE IS NO CONSENSUS.

10. This is where the blogger heavily implies that Muslims are all "violent, intolerant psychos" unlike fuzzy Christians who are never mean, ever. Do I have to get into why this is a shitty argument?

11. Killing for religion is an awful thing to do. Don't do it. Also, calling someone or something out on their bad behavior isn't the same as saying "I hate you because God tells me to."

12. What the hell is this "placebo religion?" Inman ends his comic strip with "just keep it to your fucking self." He isn't saying "don't have your beliefs." In fact, there's a whole section that the blogger ignores wherein Inman indicates the ways religion doesn't suck - "Does your religion inspire you to help people? Does it make you happier?" And does it help you with the metaphysical mindfuck of being human (I'm paraphrasing). Those are good things. But using religion as an excuse to hurt people, stifle discovery, and justify awful behavior is crap.

I have religious friends and family members who I love and respect. Their religion helps them make sense of the world and is a positive force in their lives. They don't use it to make people feel like they are less than human. They don't try to force others into believing as they do. They don't blame senseless tragedies on a lack of God. That's how they don't suck at their religion. I don't know why that's hard to understand.

Friday, July 20, 2012

I've been saying that turning 30 is better than the alternative. Today, I am painfully reminded of how true that statement is. Horrible, senseless, and tragic events happen all over the world but I believe their actual physical proximity to a person influences how much that person is affected. It's not a ground-breaking statement, I know. My brain isn't working too well right now. Someone shot a lot of people in Aurora, CO last night/early this morning during a midnight showing of the new Batman movie. He just walked into the theater and started firing indiscriminately, killing 12 people and injuring 50 others. I don't know why or even if "why" matters at this point. What difference does it make to the victims of violence if the perpetrator did it for a cause or just because he felt like it? Hurt is hurt. Dead is dead. Those 12 people will never celebrate another birthday, watch another movie, receive another hug, eat another meal, or laugh at another joke. The people who love them will always have that empty space.

I don't feel celebratory today but I do feel appreciative. I can still do things, like write a tiny and pointless blog entry. This evening, I'll go home and hug my kids.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

I'm a nerd and I'm okay if you are, too.

I am a geek. I am a nerd. I have been a geek/nerd for as long as I can remember. I grew up watching Carl Sagan's "Cosmos" series with my family and enjoying it. One of my favorite films at a very young age was Kenneth Branagh's adaptation of Henry V and I memorized the St. Crispin's day speech from that play when I was 8 years old because I thought it was moving and awesome, because I wanted to impress my parents, and because I was showing off. I watched Star Trek, TNG religiously, wrote awful fan fiction about it, and spent hours drawing what my quarters would look like with my best friends at the time. I am forever grateful that I had enthusiastic collaborators in weirdness. I have always loved science fiction and fantasy novels and films and enjoy board games and video games.

Despite what so many films made during the late 80's and 90's sought to portray, I never wanted to be part of the "popular" crowd. I thought they were all jerks and befriending them would have been self-sabotage. Looking back, it almost seems as though I went out of my way to keep being an outcast. I didn't, though. I was just awkward. I was painfully shy, I wore my grandmothers' hand-me-downs, I developed a liking for button-down silk shirts and men's ties. I started wearing gloves in class because I hated the way my fingers felt when they were pressed together in order to hold a pencil. (Incidentally, the glove thing also brought about the first time I ever heard someone use "faggoty" as a descriptor. Can you blame me for not wanting to be friends with these schmucks?) I swear to you, I was afraid of Jupiter. That planet SCARED me. My brother had this awesome book about all the planets in our solar system (including Pluto, damnit) and I remember he showed me a picture of Jupiter and pointed to that perpetual storm - the Great Red Spot - and told me that it alone could swallow several Earths. I apparently interpreted that to mean that it wanted to swallow the Earth.

I credit my family for my geeky qualities. My parents are both nerds and I say that with great affection and admiration. My brother is probably the nerdiest of us all and even though I didn't appreciate that for many years, I love the living daylights out that fact (and him) now. I was taught to enjoy learning and exploration. I was shown that scientists and writers and scholars and mathematicians are the real freaking rock stars in life. To my continuing shame, I still freeze up in the face of math and end up spewing random numbers until someone intervenes out of embarrassment and sympathy. That being said, I have a lot of respect for people who can make numbers dance and sing.

I'm not writing this to be a douchebag and be all, "I was a nerd BEFORE it was cool!" I want to be clear about what nerdiness/geekiness means to me because I know that my definition of those terms is somewhat more generous than how other self-proclaimed nerds/geeks define them. Patton Oswalt (a person I respect and admire) wrote an article for Wired Magazine in 2010 where he laments the death of nerd culture because it's lost its elitism, its street cred. More and more people are calling themselves nerds, even if it's just because they played Skyrim for an hour that one time. While I do agree that many so-called "nerds" are not deserving of the title, I don't share Oswalt's despair. I don't think that nerd culture is being destroyed as it's being embraced. New artists continue to pop up. Thinkers and dreamers keep tumbling out of the womb. We're not running out of drive and inspiration. The more people in the world who are thirsty for knowledge and enjoy experimenting and creating and tripping and falling and getting back up to do it all over again, the better.

I get cranky when my nerdiness is called into question. Saying I'm not a nerd because I don't have a giant comic book collection or because I suck at math or because I can't recite Boba Fett's origin story is a bunch of crap. I don't have to have read every comic book to be able to appreciate comic books. I don't have to be able to do calculations in my sleep in order to feel sufficient awe and respect for mathematics. You know what? I think Boba Fett is overrated, even WITHOUT the crappy Star Wars prequels sullying his character. As Nicola Foti would say, "Sahrry." I'm not going to take away your nerd hat if you disagree with me. I think the spirit of being a nerd/geek is pursuing knowledge, creating, inventing, not being ashamed of your love for anime/Star Trek/board games/science fiction/D&D/calculus/Shakespeare, etc., and letting yourself get lost in excitement and squeal-filled glee when you participate in the things that get your mental gears turning.

Putting things more succinctly and eloquently than I can is John Green, YA author and 1/2 of the Vlogbrothers: "Saying, I notice you're a nerd is like saying Hey, I notice that you'd rather be intelligent than be stupid, that you'd rather be thoughtful than be vapid, that you believe that there are things that matter more than the arrest record of Lindsay Lohan. Why is that?"

(And how on Earth could it be bad if more people felt that way?)

Now put on a fez, roll a d6, and contemplate the vastness of the universe.