Sunday, October 25, 2009

When Tweeters and Callers Unite!

This is slightly old, but for reasons I will not share I did not feel comfortable posting this here until now.

October 20th will go down in history. Or, maybe October 20th will be a trending topic on history's pages. Maybe October 20th will cease to exist, mysteriously combined with October 21st.

Digital multi-minimalists (aka Twitter users) all around the globe stumbled upon a phenomenon yesterday. They either found it to be monumentally self-affirming (as did I) or soul-shattering. What is the phenomenon, you ask? It was the temporarily trending topic, "No God." Blasphemy, they cried! Shame, shame, to hell! One might even be able to look at this as a good thing for theists. They're always looking for new ways to feel persecuted by the "masses."

Ironically, the trend began as part of a Christian phrase. It's almost enough to make one believe in a god. Wait, #no god.

This occurred on the very same day Obama challenged American citizens to make 100,000 calls to Congress for health care reform. Health care reformers jammed up the telephone lines yesterday (not literally, of course). They accepted the challenge and made over 300,000 phone calls. Do the Congress callers and twitter sinkers have anything in common? Is this a coincidence?

Well, yes. Does that make it any less special? It seems fair to say that the 20th was a unique day. People who are working to progress the United States and humanity as a whole proved that they are vocal, strong, and passionate. So to any of you Twitterers out there, keep tweeting! To you, um... people with phones, keep calling up your governing officials! Let others know what you think! Whatever you believe, at least you will get your opinion heard. If humanity is ever going to reach the goals we are aiming for, we have to start somewhere.

As for me? Well, I suck, don't I? I tweeted “no god” once, and made no calls. I was deliriously tired. I am ashamed, but proud of the others who did more than I did, and next time I'll do better. I am now inspired to be like my peers.

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Catholic Wedding: An Atheist Reports

Recently I attended what many consider the height of all frivolous fancy: the Northeastern wedding. Northeastern Catholic wedding, to be exact. Shrouded in tacky elegance, this occasion is oft-profiled on shows like Platinum Weddings and Bridezilla. Most of this entry will be discussing my reaction to the “Catholic”-ness of it all, while some will just be discussing the “Northeastern”-ness of it all, and the rest just the event itself.

To start- this wedding took place at Convent Station's Sisters of Charity of Saint Elizabeth church. Yeah, there. For anyone who doesn't know me, this is not just any old Catholic church to me. This is the site of many bad or just plain strange memories. This is the church attached to my old high school by a convent.

I attended the Academy of Saint Elizabeth, located on the campus of the College of Saint Elizabeth. It is a little known fact (and also a fact of little importance, but frequently reminded to us by the nuns) that the Academy is actually a few years older than the College, and was the first all-girls high school established in New Jersey. When we'd take our guy friends to school dances, they'd remark that the school in combination with the church and the convent looked like Hogwarts. Yeah, Hogwarts if they castrated all of the guys, put them in skirts, and left statues of saints everywhere. Not having been raised Catholic, I did not attend mass until going to this school. The church is actually beautiful, and seems a bit like a Gothic cathedral. I had my graduation ceremony there, as well as my ring ceremony. I also experienced some of the worst panic attacks of my life there.

At age fifteen, I started experiencing random and intense onsets of panic and anxiety. Though they could and did occur during a number of different experiences, some of the worst took place at places of worship. I sometimes wonder now if it was perhaps my body telling me that I was not suited for churchgoing. However, back then I was a Christian and also under eighteen, so I did not enjoy enough freedom from my parents to be allowed to skip services. Instead, I was encouraged to go to Christian counseling.

I can remember one panic attack that took place during mass. I had to leave the service, and apparently the nuns, particularly my awful, octogenarian principal, thought I was possessed by demons. Yes, those nasty, naughty panic demons that make you throw up in the morning and miss church! They brought me into a back room, placed their hands over the back of my neck so that my head stayed bowed, and prayed over me, doing the sign of the cross mumbo-jumbo. I was cured! The nuns had the answer all along: prayer and spinal stretching! Um, yeah, not so much. Considering how much I hated Sister Patricia for past, mean-spirited nunnish encounters which I may discuss at some other point, my panic was not going to abate with her help. As I sat through my friend's wedding some eight years later, I had to push memories like that one out of my head. It has been years since my last fully fledged attack, so at least I was not too worried about relapsing. As per the rules, only girls who graduated from the Academy are allowed to be married there. Unfortunately, some of my friends have allowed this rule to make them feel a bit privileged. I can most definitely expect to attend at least two more weddings there.

Before the ceremony, one of my acquaintances friends and fellow St. Elizabeth graduate suggested we take our first trip back to high school. Maybe it wasn't the best idea to risk running into old high school teachers while wearing a dress out of which my breasts were threatening to pop. We journeyed through the crusty-smelling convent, above the eerie, cobwebbed catacombs (yes, my high school has catacombs) through which we used to sneak because there was a singular sign of life: a vending machine that sold cheaper sodas than the cafeteria. Through the halls, the nuns we passed told us we looked beautiful. I thanked them and told them they did too. I don't know, what else do you say to a nun? Inside the school itself, I felt an overwhelming sense of sadness. I had changed so much in the six-and-a-half years since I last set foot there, and yet it was exactly the same. Even the faint whiff of garlic had not changed. The school has a vampire problem, you see.

The ceremony was lovely, if not unnecessarily long (I told myself I wouldn't, but I did tweet once during the ceremony). I was more impressed with the priest than I thought I would be, as he admitted himself that he was possibly the least qualified person in the room to discuss marriage. He did spew out some fantasy about how religion had taken marriage from the pagans and infused it with “Godly” morality by treating women as an equal partner in the contract. Am I missing something? I wanted to scream about that one, but at least he praised the Jews for this and did not attempt to attribute this to the Catholics. Later on in the ceremony, my friend and her fiancé-turn-husband had chosen to light a unity candle. The priest prefaced the lighting with a commentary on the symbolism of choosing to blow out the individual candles or deciding to leave them lit. You know- will you become fully one or will you remain strong individuals to make a stronger whole blah blah, nonsense, bullshit. They blew out the candles, even though I was attempting to telepathically stop them from doing so. I decided that I want to have a unity candle at my wedding, and just to be total dicks, my groom and I will decide beforehand to blow out one of the individual candles and leave the other lit, just to fuck with people.

I think I may have been the only atheist in attendance, or at least I did not notice anyone else who did not bow their head during prayer (except for the seven-year-old junior groomsman, of course). However, I was definitely not the only one who saw the silliness of the rituals. There was a family of (I will assume based on educated guessing) Protestants, who I caught smirking at the robotic repetition of Catholic mantras. When it came to the Eucharist, many people did not line up to receive it. My often confused friend actually asked if I was going to take it. I had to try hard not to give her a smug, patronizing look and declaim loudly that I had no interest in a bland wafer that might even be a human heart in disguise.

The soirée took place at the Venetian, and after mishap upon mishap we made it there in mostly whole pieces. This is what I mean when I refer to a Northeastern wedding. I tell you now, I have never seen a smorgasbord that more fit the definition of smorgasbord in my life. The cocktail hour alone came complete with open bar, vodka luge (as well as a nonfunctional NY Giants ice sculpture), sushi bar, mini cheeseburger station, other hot meat and seafood stations, platter upon platter of cheeses, crackers, fruits, veggies, and then some. It was enough to make me think again about wanting a small wedding.

The rest of the wedding was uneventful, unless you count taking care of a drunk and sobbing friend as an event. I did not get to enjoy dessert because of this, and a small tear did well in my eye as I passed the trays of tiramisu and decadent brownie. This was a small, though tasty, price to pay to make sure a friend was safe, and the bride-sans-zilla understood. Overall, I'd say it was a good wedding at which to be a guest. Even for an atheist.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Morality Is For The Faithful... Not!

I had a conversation with my mother recently. She told me a story that she had heard through a friend about some distant or not so distant family member. Unfortunately I cannot remember all of the specifics of the story, so bear with me. I also have no means of verifying its accuracy, so I use it as a way to discuss a point, not necessarily as a historical account.

The story took place in a Nazi occupied country during the Holocaust. A Christian family was hiding a Jewish family in their basement. The Nazis came knocking, as they often did, as asked if the family was hiding anyone. At this point, the family was torn. If they told the truth, the people they were hiding would be killed, but if they said “No”, they would be lying, and as Christians believed that lying was a sin. They told the truth. According to the story, the Nazis were so shocked by their response that they laughed it off, did not believe the Christians, and assumed that there must have been some sort of trap. The Nazis left and the Jewish family was safe. After finishing this story, my mother said, “I can't understand how some people can hear a story like that and not see god.” To which I'm sure you can guess my response.

Now, I hear you. This story does not seem plausible, if only for the fact that I cannot imagine the Nazis leaving with everyone unharmed if they honestly believed there was a setup. However, not having studied enough about the subject, for all I know that was a common scenario, so let's disregard any glaring unlikelihoods. Let us focus instead on the actions of the Christians in the story and my mother's response to it.

In the conversation that followed, my mother stated that she did not think she could have made the same decision the Christians in the story made, but that she admired the Christians for their faith in god, and he came through for them. My take on the story is that the Christians were adhering to warped and harmful beliefs, should not be commended for telling the truth, and were just plain lucky that the outcome was what it was. I also stated that they probably were not the only Christians to have given up their hidden charges for the sake of following their god's laws, and that nine times out of ten the Nazis would not have reacted the way they did and those hiding would not have been spared. I even went so far as to say they would have been partially culpable in the death of this Jewish family, had it happened. It's one thing to tell the truth and risk your own life, but to risk someone else's?

As an atheist, I am often asked how I can possibly determine wrong from right. As any atheist can tell you, it is really not that difficult. I also consider myself a humanist, obviously of the secular variety. As clichéd as it sounds, I follow the Golden Rule- do unto others... you get the idea. There are a couple of gray points I have, and as I've said before I am an anti-absolutist, but those are topics for a different post. Maybe this sounds like a moral mess to some, and granted as an anti-absolutist I sometimes have to look at situations case by case to determine my view on them, but for the most part it is pretty self-explanatory. I do not advocate the violation of someone else's will, and this goes beyond what is legal and what is illegal, which is a different matter.

Let's try to figure how out lying fits into this. Lying could be considered within the gray area, so I guess I would have to take it case by case. While I try to avoid dishonesty in my life because it generally does not lead to good things, I cannot say I believe every lie is inherently wrong or ought to be avoided. The old story of a wife asking her husband if he thinks another woman is prettier than she is a pretty easy example to work with. Say the man thinks the other woman is prettier (he better not!). On one hand, one could argue that it is a violation of the woman's trust if he were to lie. On the other hand, one could argue that it would hurt the woman's feelings and it is better to lie over such a trivial matter. Personally, I see the damage that can be done by lying, but if I were in the situation, I would prefer being lied to. If I was only dating the guy then I might prefer honesty, because I'd probably end up breaking up with that guy eventually anyway. However, if married, I'm obviously not going to get divorced over something like that, so my alternative is to continue in the marriage knowing my husband does not think I'm the prettiest girl around. I'll be honest (pun intended), I have jealousy and insecurity issues, and if I thought my future husband found another woman more attractive than me, that would definitely be a sore spot. Maybe these are issues I need to work on, but for right now, that's the way it is.

As far as I'm concerned, lying over certain matters is not necessarily wrong. It has to do with intent and weighing the severity of the potential and probable outcomes. Now let's take the case at hand: lying to save someone else's life. Clearly, I think it's appropriate and, in fact, more ethical to lie in this situation. Luckily the situation worked out for the families involved so that perhaps telling the truth was the only way lives would be spared, but there was no way to know that. The Christians told the truth assuming that the family they were hiding would be killed, but that in god's eyes it was still the course they should follow.

As an ex-Christian, I know firsthand that some Christian churches do teach that all prevarications are equal in god's eyes. Of course I do not speak for every church, but I am confident that some do teach this. This means that lying to your friend that you like her new purse is just as bad as lying on a tax return, or lying about being married in order to cheat, or lying to save someone's life. But of course, isn't being partially responsible for someone else's death also a “sin”?

The Protestant churches I went to (obviously the Catholic church disagrees here) also taught that all “sins” are created equal. Murder is equal to lying is equal to a six year old stealing gum from a convenience store. I asked my mother what she would have done in this situation. She said she didn't know and she probably would have lied, but she generally implied that she thought the fact that she would probably lie was a character flaw or a lack of faith on her part.

My question to her, and to other Christians in general, was: so if both outcomes involve “sinning”, and all “sins” are created equal, how do you decide what to do in a situation like this? (Let's disregard the idea that all “sins” are created equal, which I think is a fairly reprehensible idea anyway.) She did not know how to decide which was more wrong in “god”'s eyes, and I do not think she honestly believes one path would have been more wrong or more right than the other. For her, it all came down to faith in god, and that god chose to reward these Christians for their blind, unmoving, unthinking, harmful, negligent faith.

After all of this, I have to ask: how can anyone say it's difficult for an atheist to determine between right and wrong when not all Christians can seem to even determine that it's more wrong to risk someone else's life than to lie? Or at least that some Christians may think one option is better while others disagree? I can't speak for every atheist, but I'm pretty sure most if not all would agree that lying is the better option here based on the potential and probable outcomes. And they call us moral relativists. I may have to take certain things case by case, but at least I can make a damn decision when I do. What do you think?

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Dating And The Musing Atheist

Let me begin by saying that I am an atheist. For as long as I have considered myself one, I have never shied away from the term in public. My beliefs (or lack thereof, if you want to refer to them that way) are very important to me, and why I believe what I do is of even greater importance. I do a lot of reading and exploring in order to more fully understand what I believe within the context of what there is to believe. I also search for scientific facts and evidence, not only to reinforce what comes naturally to me as a lack of belief in a god, but also to support my beliefs when they come under fire by those who disagree (meaning my entire family, unfortunately. It's not all bad, though, I definitely hold my own, and that's even as I am debating family members who work in the medical profession. Don't get me started on Christian doctors, because then I'd have to start ranting about my father, which I do not want to do right now).

I cannot say that I would see much of a point in developing a romantic relationship with a theist (and let me add that I find it amusing that there is a world of difference between “a theist” and “atheist.” What a difference a space makes). Most of my best friends are theists, and so I have no problem being friends with and sustaining meaningful relationships with believers of various faiths, but I do draw a line when it comes to dating, which I don't see anything wrong with, as Christians and other theists generally follow the same dating code. Some people can enjoy fairly superficial relationships (or perhaps lead unexamined lives), even into marriage, and so can easily brush off differences of belief. I am not one of those people. To be sufficiently romantically attracted to someone, I would need to feel open to and, in fact, invited to, discuss thoughts of a deep and philosophical nature. Since I am an anti-absolutist, I will never hold that it is 100% impossible that I could somehow develop a fulfilling romantic relationship with a theist, but I would say that I find the scenario incredibly unlikely and that I purposely avoid dating theists. Some would argue that that then would become a self-fulfilling prophecy, so it may as well be considered an impossibility. I would not entirely disagree with that, but then of course I'd being leaving out the possibility of chance. I can just imagine the conversation on the wedding night after sex:

New Husband: Whoo! Man, I knew I liked sex, but god did say it's better within the confines of marriage, and he was right!

Me: Huh? You believe in god?

NH: ...Yeah... you don't?

Me: Well have you ever seen me read the Bible? Or go to church? Or ever mention believing in god?

NH: No, but have you ever seen me do that?

Me: No, but I don't see most Christians doing that anyway.

NH: I kind of just always assumed you were like me... you know. Christmas and Easter Christian.

Me: And the fact that we fucked in that church's nativity scene last Christmas didn't clue you in?

NH: I thought you had a Virgin Mary fantasy!

Me: Oh, come on, I told you I was a naughty elf and that I wanted to sit on your lap and take a trip to your North Pole!

NH: Oh yeah... that was a good Christmas. Anyway, I had sex with you and I believe in god. I know I shouldn't have sex before marriage, but I did because it feels like heaven. Wait, you do believe in heaven, right?

Me: Um, no. I believe that when we die, we will cease to live. As in, no living beyond death and no afterlife, unless you want to refer to afterlife as literally after life, meaning dead. We become worm food, or better yet, ashes.

NH: Lovely. Well when I die, at least get me a tombstone that says “Loving Husband” on it. And make sure it says something about heaven.

Me: Well if I die first, do whatever is least expensive.

NH: You want me to penny pinch your funeral?

Me: Or what makes you feel happy.

NH: Happy? How am I supposed to feel happy knowing that, if you are right, your soul no longer exists and if I am right, you're burning in hell?!

Me: ...Well, if I'm already burning then cremation is not that big of a deal, right?

NH: Not funny.

Me: We really should have had this conversation yesterday.

And now I ramble. And by the way, I've never actually done the nativity scene thing, but I think I now have a new idea to brighten my secular celebration of this upcoming holiday season.

Wow, I started this entry with the intention of making an entirely different point, but I guess that will have to wait for another post. Please leave me comments about your ideas of dating and how (or if) religion or the lack of religion should come into play.

Monday, October 5, 2009

There was a lollipop dildo involved...

Now what great story doesn't start with that line? This entry is a bit out of keeping with most of the other ones, but that's okay because this blog is ultimately about whatever I want it to be about.

I really have a lot of trouble understanding the celebrity culture. You know what I mean, that gawking, let me critique whatever you do, say, or wear, love you one day-hate you the next sort of mentality. I can't say I'm immune to it, unfortunately. Just last night I was standing on the street in the city and saw someone exit a limo across the street. Not too out of the ordinary for New York, but then people started taking pictures with this guy. Neither myself nor my friends could figure out who he was, and I was a bit tempted to run across the street to discover his identity and report back to my friends. This was partly due to a slightly annoying desire I have to feel like the only one “daring” enough to do certain things, but also (and it pains me to admit this) due to that sickening voice in the back of my head- who is that?! Do I care about him?! Do I need his autograph too?!

I didn't run across the street. Though I will admit to the slight fascination I felt, I also swear up and down that for the most part, I couldn't care less about celebrities. There are exceptions: I like to think I'd keep my cool, but chances are I'd melt into a bubbling pile of fangirl goo in front of Barack Obama and almost any other politician, Jon Stewart, Rachel Maddow, Richard Dawkins, Ralph Fiennes, Gene Ween of Ween, Stephen Fry, and Johnny Depp, to randomly name a good few off a short list. All of these, except Johnny Depp (and perhaps Ralph Fiennes and maybe maybe Jon Stewart) are not the sort of celebrity who often graces magazine pages or Best or Worst Dressed lists. But I guess I wouldn't know, because I can honestly say I've never visited Perez Hilton's website, watched TMZ, or flipped through any of the many celeb gossip mags out there (except when they were the only thing on a breakroom table). It's not that I don't have opinions, or even that I don't like fashion. I do actually like fashion and have many opinions. I just refuse to care about a stranger's life to the point of letting it interfere with my own. As for the celebrities I do pay attention to, I do so because of how they can enrich my own life (except Johnny Depp. I pay attention to him because my eyes won't look away. He's so pretty....).

The reason I bring this up today is because I was so blessed yesterday to be able to ride along the Sex and the City tour bus for three and a half hours. The best part of it? The yummy cupcake we got as part of the tour. I was doing a friend-ly duty by going, and even though I am a fan of the show, I must say I cannot, for the life of me, understand why anyone would care to see where they filmed Carrie and Mr. Big, or where Trey and Charlotte got her engagement ring. Maybe it's due to the fact that I was born in and grew up near New York City, but I'm jaded. I don't care where Carrie and Miranda talked about blah-blah-blah, because, as my good friend Era pointed out, that's where she and her gay army got drunk at two in the morning and tried to chase hookers and trannies. Okay, so that's not my story, that's her story and I used it because of its more interesting nature. The point is, however, that I have lived parts of my own life on the streets of NYC, so why would I care about a fictional character's life on these streets?

Alright, I can understand being a fan of a series and also not being a NY native. Now, this may make me a total geek, but sign me up for any Harry Potter tour in a second. That's pretty much the only non-educational tour I'd enjoy, and at least that is about a book series. That being said, I don't mind the fact that the tour exists or that people go on it, especially those who don't live in the city. To each their own. But since I paid to be on the tour, let me at least enjoy it to the extent that is possible. I can suffer through what was essentially a three hour bus ride plus a few stops for friends. What I can't take is people who use the tour as an excuse to let their inner Samantha out. “Oh my god, we just missed Sarah Jessica by ten minutes!” Excuse me, old lady with the short curly hair and moled face, but you are no Samantha. Samantha is no Samantha. Now stop yelling to the entire bus about your son who just won his Little League game and the fact that we just passed a Dunkin' Donuts and let the rest of us hear the goddamn tour guide lady before I run back to that sex shop we stopped at where Charlotte bought the rabbit and shove a life-sized lollipop dildo down your throat! Then will you feel like a real Samantha?!