Sunday, March 23, 2014

A Frosty Review of "Frozen"


I heard the other day that some conservative Christian group is frothing at the mouth over the Disney film Frozen. Apparently, not only does it promote witchcraft (these guys do know that witchcraft isn't real, right?), but also, gasp, lesbianism!! I hadn't yet seen the movie when I heard this but I thought to myself, "a Disney movie incorporated some openly gay characters? Cool!"

I decided to actually buy the DVD/Blu-Ray combo of the movie, since not only had I heard such great things about it from everyone I know, but I also rarely get an opportunity to watch "girly" movies at my house. When you live with 2 sons and a husband, you get a lot of Transformers, cars, and aliens, but not a lot of singing, dancing, or ballgowns. Had you asked me ten years ago (before I had kids), I would have smugly told you that this was a purely social construct, and it's only because we encourage boys and girls to consume different types of media that they have any "preferences" at all.

I've since come to the realization that boys and girls are just different. This doesn't mean that ALL boys like trucks and ALL girls like dolls. It just means that even when you paint your boy's toenails and try so hard to assure them that there are no "boy colors" and "girl colors," they're still probably going to gravitate to Spiderman over Cinderella. Not all, but most.

Anyway, back to Frozen.

I was excited to see this one because I'm a HUGE Broadway fan, and the amazing Idina Menzel (aka "Adele Dazeem") voices one of the main characters. Plus, my brother had told me it was very "Broadway-ey."

So I was severely disappointed to find out that I hated most of the music. Except for the one song that was the big hit of the film, "Let it Go," the rest of the songs kind of sucked. Which my husband enjoyed pointing out again and again throughout the film. Also, I was dismayed to find that there was NO gay plot-line after all! Only a sweet story about two biological sisters performing acts of "true love" for each other.

So that was disappointing. But like any Disney movie for kids, it had a mix of good and bad themes throughout. So without further ado, here is my list of the good, the bad, and the ugly from Frozen:

Good:
  • That one song was okay.
  • There is a lesson to had about not letting fear rule your life.
  • The love story between the sisters trumped the romance between the lead male/female characters. That was nice.
  • Josh Gad. I LOVE Josh Gad. And the reindeer. He was funny.
  • The lead female character was kind of bad ass and dorky at the same time. That was a nice change for Disney.
  • It turns out that deciding to marry someone you just met that day is probably a bad idea. Unless you've known them for like a month, in which case it's probably "true love."

Bad:
  • Must EVERY film that is marketed to girls require a romance as one of the main plot points??! Do we need every girl to think that the single most important thing in life is getting married??!! You don't see this same theme in films targeted to boys. Yes, there is an occasional romance thrust at them, but it's not usually such an important part of the story. And we are talking about children here! They have plenty of time to worry about romance when they grow up. Does it have to be the only thing Hollywood keeps throwing at them?
  • And on the point of romance, I'm so sick of seeing the idea thrown at kids of any gender that there is "one true love" out there for everyone. This idea is harmful. It keeps people in bad relationships for much too long, and keeps young people from exploring their options when it comes to partners. When kids grow up with the idea that once they find their "soul-mate" then everything will just magically fall into place, we're setting them up for a lifetime of disappointment. The movie does give a slight nod to this idea, but solves the problem with a second "true love."
  • Does every female lead character in the world of Disney NEED to be a Princess? What is it with Princess worship? I just don't get it.
  • The idea that hearts are more important than brains. Brains are just a changeable feature able to be manipulated, but your heart, well, ALWAYS trust that.
  • The "poor little rich girl" theme, again.
Ugly:
  • Do I even need to say it? The eyes!!! Ugh! Disney, please stop with the girls having eyes that are 15 times too big for their faces!! We get it. You're trying to make them sexy and more appealing, but it's just creepy and unsettling. 
  • And while you're at it, do all of them need a 2 centimeter wide waist and size -2 feet? It's just weird.

So there you have it. One person's opinion. As of this writing, my 4-year-old son is on his 4th viewing of Frozen, so I guess it does have some cross-over appeal. But if I woke up tomorrow and saw that Disney was making a movie with some honest-to-god gay characters, I'd be pleased as punch.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

More than 50 Shades of Gray

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I think I may have finally figured out what it is. That thing. The thing that separates liberals from conservatives. The thing that, when you peel back all of the arguments and rhetoric about everything, is at the heart of the disagreement between the left and the right.

Are you ready?

Here it is.

Uncertainty. Ambivalence. Complexity. Ambiguity. Skepticism. In short, shades of gray.

This may be common knowledge to many of you, but it really feels like an epiphany to me. The reason that I hold so many of the opinions I do is not that I'm so sure of the rightness of my own thinking; it's the fact that I know I don't know everything.

It's the reason so many liberals like to cite scientific studies and focus on "evidence-based practices." We know that our own knowledge on any given subject is limited, and therefore we look to experts who spend more time studying the topic than we do.

We are comfortable with moral ambiguity because we know that morality isn't always necessarily black and white. We know that the idea of "good guys and bad guys" is misleading.

Life is complex. People are complex. And the world is messy. We know that not everyone thinks and acts exactly like us, and so we try to reserve judgement for when we know more about a situation, and make allowances for diversity and variation.

When I wrote my last post about abortion, I had someone arguing with me about when I think "life" begins. I told him that I don't know, which is why I don't think it should be up to me to make that decision for someone else. He kept pressing me for an answer and seemed very perplexed at why I could not make an absolute decision. The fact is, I don't know when a person starts becoming a true "person." I know that a cluster of cells is different than a newborn baby. But is there a moment between month 3 and 4 when a fetus becomes more "human" than it was before? Maybe. But since that is a philosophical question, it seems to me that the best course of action is to leave the decision up to the woman involved, because I don't know what's going on in her life.

I've also been arguing about voter ID laws over the past day on Facebook (yes, I enjoy arguing).  So many people think that since voter ID makes sense to them, and since it wouldn't affect them at all, then we should do it. I mean, who needs "research" or the opinion of professionals who actually specialize in voter fraud when we have some stories we heard one time about someone voting in place of their dead uncle? People don't seem to want to look outside their own bubble and find out more about what is actually going on in any given situation for someone else.  They'd rather have the certainty of knowing they're right.

I've been trying to watch "The House I Live In" for the past day or two (I've gotten about halfway through it at this point) which is a film about America's "war on drugs." It's a fascinating topic, but most conservatives won't give a second thought to what's going on in the lives of prisoners. They're drug dealers, they belong in jail, that's it. Any attempt to explain the background of someone who's in jail is just "making excuses for their crime."  They don't worry too much about the death penalty because the person being executed "deserves it."  They don't give a second thought to all of the complexity of situation and room for human error that exists in any human-based undertaking such as our criminal justice system.

Here's what I think it all basically boils down to: liberals don't want people to suffer needlessly when we can do something about it, and we don't want people to be dicks about everything. Beyond that, the conversation is wide open and we're willing to change our minds if the circumstances change or the situation becomes clearer.

So, if you want to be a liberal, keep an open mind and don't be a dick. Now go about your business.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Bodily Autonomy

Abortion.

It’s a thorny topic. Just saying the word out loud makes most people squirm. And there are passionate people on all sides of the debate that feel equally strongly about their positions.

I was just challenged by a conservative Christian friend of mine to read a post from the “The Matt Walsh Blog” on the “bodily autonomy” argument for abortion. I read it, and now I’m responding. This post will make a lot more sense to you if you first read the original article, which you can find here. Read that first and then come back here.


Are you back? Okay, let’s get started.

First I need to point out that whoever wrote the original letter to Matt was very misguided in their use of language. Calling names and berating people does not strengthen your argument, nor does it help the person you’re having a discussion with see your point of view and take it seriously. So there’s that. I wouldn’t have written the letter in quite the same way.

But anyway, here is my point-by-point rebuttal of the rebuttal to the argument. Again, if you haven’t read the original post, or at least skimmed it, you’re going to be completely lost. So read it and follow along.


1. Matt is correct that the relationship between mother and child is different than the relationship between you and a random stranger. Of course it is. There is nothing quite so meaningful as the bond between a mother and her child. As a mother, I’m astutely aware of this. But I think the fundamental misunderstanding comes from the fact that the bodily autonomy argument isn’t necessarily meant to be an argument about morality; it’s about legality.

What we are saying when we say that a woman should have the sole right to determine what goes on inside their own body is that the government should not have a say in what you do or do not use your body for. Whether you think having an abortion is “moral” or not isn’t really the question. The question is who gets to make that decision for you? You, or the government?

A better analogy would have been this: if your child needs a kidney transplant, should the government compel you to give them your kidney? Again, keep in mind that I’m NOT asking whether or not you would do it (I think we all would if we could). The questions is, “should the government compel you to do it?” And if they should, should it only be for biological children, or adopted children as well? I cannot stress this enough: this is not about morality or what you would do in a specific situation; it’s about what the law would compel you to do, and who gets to make that law, enforce it, and carry out the punishment for it.

And before you ask, yes, I am also in favor of legalized prostitution, drugs, piercing, and pretty much whatever else you want to do with your own body.

2. How a person gets pregnant is irrelevant. Pregnancy, childbirth, and parenting should not be a punishment for having sex. It’s easy to say that everyone who has ever had sex was making a mature decision and they should live with the consequences, but that’s just not the case. Have you met a teenager recently (or ever been one)? How a person gets into the condition they’re in shouldn’t be relevant to the treatment they receive or their ability to control their own body. If I am injured while snowboarding, should I just deal with the broken leg?

3. Again, this goes back to point number 1. It’s not about the morality of the situation or what we think a “good parent” should do. It’s about whether or not they should be forced to do it by the government, or thrown in jail for it.

4. I don’t even know how to comment on the whole “natural order” thing. It assumes that there is a god that created a natural order that we always have to stick by no matter what. If that’s the case, then I guess we also can’t ever use birth control, or shave our legs, or eat Hot Pockets®. It sounds like Matt thinks we shouldn’t ever go against the “natural order,” so does that mean we should eschew dentistry too? I’m just leaving that one alone.

5. The first problem I have with this one is his terminology. The use of the term “abortionist” is specifically meant to make a doctor sound like a criminal, which I guess is his point, but it really bothers me. I’ve met abortion doctors, and they are anything but creepy, trench coat wearing butchers (although, when we make abortion illegal, we will see many more of those types around). They are doctors trying to do what is best for their patients. They are not doing it to make money (or else they would be charging a helluva lot more). I have the same problem with the term “abortion industry.” There is no abortion “industry.”

But I digress. Matt claims that abortion involves an embryo or fetus being “crushed, dismembered, poisoned, or torn apart,” which leads me to believe that he doesn’t actually know how an abortion is done. Depending on the stage of pregnancy, there are different methods, and the later the pregnancy is, the harsher the method becomes. I won’t lie; it does make me uncomfortable. But I keep coming back to the same question: “Is it the government’s job to tell another woman what she can do with her body?”

I don’t know the circumstances of every pregnancy. What I do know is that if you’re seeking a late-term abortion, you probably aren’t there because you just didn’t feel like being pregnant anymore. Often times there is a fetal defect, or a life-threatening condition for the mother. Since I don’t know what’s going on in every case, I shouldn’t be the one making the decision. And neither should my congressman. I know that it’s easy for some people to look at women who are having abortions as “careless,” and “selfish,” but keep in mind that you do not, and cannot possibly know what is going on in every situation. That’s what it comes down to.

6. He’s right. The argument does put me in the precarious position of allowing for a woman to do harmful things while she’s pregnant. I really hate it, but I don’t think it should be illegal for a woman to do reckless things while she’s pregnant. I think she should be encouraged not to do them, and assuming she wants to have a baby, she won’t do them, but at the end of the day, I don’t think she should be thrown in jail for them. Because again, it puts the government in control of what she does with her body.

7. Please refer to point number 5. Here’s where I have a problem. He uses the word “moral” again. This is not a discussion about morality, it is a discussion about legality. You may be surprised to know that I am a lot more bothered by late term abortion than by first-trimester abortion. But my solution to this is not to outlaw ALL abortion. It’s to make first trimester abortion more accessible to women who are seeking it. Unlike a lot of pro-lifers (who equate an embryo with an infant), I DO think there is a difference between a 2-day-old zygote and a 35-week-old fetus. However, since the question of “when life begins” can be a muddy one, depending on what you consider to be “life” and what your specific religion (or lack thereof) tells you, I think the most reasonable course of action in the law is to make life begin at birth. Again, we are talking about legality, not morality.

8. This one gets into the semantics of the word “body.” The bodily autonomy argument only addresses the use of your body and its parts. What Matt is talking about here is really a philosophical argument that I don’t think applies. Pregnancy requires more or less the same thing of every female body it is affecting. Parenthood does not.

For example, I could have chosen to breastfeed my children, but I didn’t. Did I get thrown in jail for it? No, because there are alternate means of feeding a child and the government doesn’t require me to use my body to nourish another person, even if I gave birth to them. It would be easy for someone to make a moral pronouncement about what a “bad mother” I am, if they didn’t know I did it for medical reasons. I was on a medication that was unsafe to take while breastfeeding. Fortunately, the government did not step in and make that decision for me. I made it with the help of my doctor, the way medical decisions should be made. And you know what? Even if I just “didn’t feel like” breastfeeding, I shouldn’t have been thrown in jail for not doing it, because it’s my body.

9. Come on. Just, come on. Really? Doing what you want with your body is not the same as doing what you want anywhere with your body.

10. See point number 8.


The crux of the issue here is that pro-lifers seem to think this is as easy as making a decision about what you would do or what a “good person” should do. But it’s not. It’s a thorny issue precisely because it has to do with pregnancy and motherhood, which are profoundly important things. But being pro-choice does not mean “I think abortions are great and I think everyone should have at least one.” Nor does it mean “every unplanned pregnancy should end in an abortion.” All we are saying is “abortion should remain legal.” At the core, that’s really it. We’re not “pro-aborts” as Matt so callously refers to us. We are people who think that the government has no place in telling us what should or should not go on in our uterus, and that our lives are complex enough that we are in the best position to make decisions for ourselves. At its heart, it’s really a Libertarian ideal, which is why I find it perplexing that Libertarians such as Ron Paul are anti-choice.

It’s hard to be in agreement on this issue because we are starting from different points. The pro-life community generally starts with the premise that every fertilized egg is a “soul” that God has sent to Earth for a specific purpose. When you’re an atheist, as I am, you don’t see it that way. You see that embryo as a potential person, but not one that is equal to the living, breathing woman that is currently pregnant. In my view, that is probably the single biggest reason that we’ll never agree on this issue. 

There are many, many other issues that cause division when it comes to abortion, but this post has already gotten extraordinarily long, and it is supposed to be focused on the bodily autonomy argument, so maybe I’ll tackle the other arguments and issues another day. You can read more about my views on abortion here.

But let me end with this statement. I really wish the pro-life community would do less judging of the women who have abortions, and work harder to prevent the need for them in the first place. Birth control, comprehensive sex-ed, assistance for people living in poverty; all of these things reduce the need for abortion in the first place, but the pro-life community in general seems so determined to NOT provide these things either. There is SO MUCH we could do together to prevent unwanted pregnancies, but when you spend all of your time trying to outlaw something that will still happen if it’s illegal, you miss the opportunity to really make a difference. And that makes me sad.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Mouths to Feed

The reduction in S.N.A.P. benefits (otherwise know as food stamps), has been all over the news in the past few days. We've been told that in order to keep government spending under control, the best course of action is to make sure hungry people get even less to eat. Seems logical, right?  I mean, people love a free handout, and if you give them food for free, they're just going to abuse your generosity and keep coming back for more.

My atheist group volunteered at the local soup kitchen this week. It was the first time I'd ever done so, and the experience left me with an empty feeling in the pit of my stomach. With all of the political talk about the "takers" just trying to get a free ride, I would have thought I was going to witness all kinds of happy people enjoying their free dinner that they didn't have to work for.

But you know what I saw instead? Quiet people with their heads down, eyes averting ours, clearly embarrassed to be there, quickly eating as much as they could and then promptly leaving.  There wasn't much conversation between the people there, and no one seemed thrilled to be eating dinner at someone else's expense.  Maybe they were just laughing on the inside.

You know what else I saw? Kids. Lots of them. And babies too. Turns out children are totally dependent on whatever their parents can scrounge up for them to eat. Meanwhile, my own child was in the back room watching videos on my iPhone while eating half of what was on his plate and then saying he didn't want the rest because he didn't like it. He wasn't rude about it. He just didn't like it. And he knew that if he was still hungry later, he'd be able to come home to a warm house with a fully-stocked kitchen.

It just about killed me to see all of those kids, and the parents who were doing their best to care for them. I can't imagine not being able to feed my kids. I literally can't. I try, but I start to feel sick and have to stop imagining it.  I'm fortunate. Not because I'm smarter, stronger, better, or more hard-working than everyone else; just because of sheer dumb luck and circumstance. And my kids were fortunate to be born into my family, even though they didn't have any say in the matter. They're not better or more worthy of love than any of the kids at the soup kitchen. They're just luckier.

To suggest that we need to reduce the amount spent on food assistance because the people who are getting it don't "deserve" it is ignorant at best and cruel at worst. I have heard so much venom lately coming out of the mouths of people who've probably never been legitimately hungry a day in their lives.  The poor in this country have become political pawns, and the messaging that "they're just taking your hard-earned money" has been very successful.

You know who I think doesn't deserve my hard-earned tax dollars? Oil companies. Corporations that pay their employees minimum wage. Sports stadium owners. I can think of a thousand other places to cut money that don't literally leave children to starve. But then, hungry children can't vote, so it's easier to just ignore them.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

12 Thoughts on "Evolution vs. God"

Okay guys, this one’s a doozy. Undoubtedly my longest post to date. Get settled in and prepare to read.

Last week I was challenged by a Facebook friend of mine to watch a video called “Evolution vs. God.” It’s a You Tube video by Ray Comfort, who is described by Wikipedia as “a New Zealand-born Christian minister and evangelist.  Comfort started Living Waters Publications and The Way of the Master in Bellflower, California and has written a number of books.”  Comfort is a well-known guy in atheist circles, mainly for his assertion that the banana is proof of God, because the banana is so perfectly created to fit into the hand of a human. He is also a close associate of another atheist favorite, Kirk Cameron.

Always up for a good challenge, I watched the video and reported back to my Facebook friend.
I told him that I had so very many thoughts on this video, that I couldn’t possibly put them all into a single Facebook comment, so I decided to make a blog post out of them instead (I’m always looking for good blog material).


If you want to watch the video before reading this, you can find it here. I’ll warn you though, it was very hard for me to not shut it off after about 7 minutes of watching the same thing over and over again, but I muddled through.  However, I just can’t bring myself to watch it again. I’m already dealing with a kid who has pink-eye, so I’ve taken enough grief for one day. Therefore, my writing probably won’t match up chronologically with the video as I’m going on sheer memory here. I’m probably going to be all over the place. With that said, here are my thoughts:

Thought #1: The magic of editing.
This is clearly a carefully edited video. It is essentially a collection of “man-on-the-street” type interviews with people who the audience is supposed to assume are “typical” defenders of evolution (see thought #2). Naturally, we rarely get to see the “intelligent” answers. In fact, many of the answers I desperately wanted to see were cut out.  And I really question why some of the interviewees were given more time than others. However, editing is a common thing and I can’t really fault Comfort for wanting to get his point across by using what he thought were the statements that best proved his point. I can be annoyed by it though.

Thought #2: Not all students of science are evolutionary biologists.
Much of the video is spent randomly interviewing science students at a university (not sure which one – UCLA maybe?). Most of them were studying fields such as chemistry, physics, geology, etc.  Just because someone is in college and is studying science, they do not automatically have a vast and thorough knowledge of evolution, especially since we were never told what year of college these students were in. From the looks of it, most of them were straight out of high school. People study for years to understand this stuff, so to expect people who are not experts to answer your random questions coherently is really pretty na├»ve. I myself would never claim to be an expert on the subject, as science has just never been my particular forte and I’ve never been interested enough to study evolution in depth.  If he really wanted to prove his point, the video should have relied more heavily on actual experts and less so on first-year students who were plucked off the sidewalk on their way to class.

Thought #3: Atheists do not claim to “know” that there is no God.
At one point, a woman who is interviewed says that she is not an atheist because she can’t be so arrogant as to claim that there definitely is no God.  There is also a famous Neil deGrasse Tyson quote used at some point in which Tyson basically says the same thing. But that is NOT the claim of atheism.  This is a pet peeve of mine. Atheists are simply claiming that we haven’t seen enough evidence to believe that your particular god is real. Christians are making the claim that a very specific god exists, and we aren’t buying it until we see some proof. That’s it. We aren’t claiming that we know for certain there is no god. Sure, anyone can find some crackpot to tell you that there is definitely, without a doubt, no god, but that claim does not represent atheism as a whole or even most atheists.  “Agnosticism” simply means we don’t know if there is a god or not. “Atheism” means we don’t believe there is one. Those are two different things, therefore most atheists, including myself, would classify themselves as “agnostic atheists.”

Thought #4: There is no such thing as “Darwinian Evolution.”
The term “Darwinian evolution” is used constantly throughout this video. It’s a term creationists often use, probably because it limits evolution to Darwin’s research and ideas. Yes, Darwin was the first prominent person to put forth the theory of evolution, but a lot of work has been accomplished in the field since then. So just to deny all of the other research that’s been done and assume that there was this one guy, Charles Darwin, who was solely responsible for “making up” evolution is just nonsense.  Comfort seems to think that “regular evolution” is just adaptation and survival of the fittest, and that “Darwinian evolution” makes the claim that one day a human baby was born to a monkey mother. No one is making that claim. Again, it’s nonsense.

Thought #5: No, you did not “stump” the experts.
There are many shots of biology experts being supposedly “stumped” by Comfort. One notable example is P.Z. Myers, Professor of Biology at the University of Minnesota. I saw Myers speak a couple of weeks ago at the Minnesota Atheists Conference, and I’m pretty sure nothing stumps him. There are several instances in the video where Myers is asked a question and then sits there with a bewildered look on his face. In many of these instances, we don’t get to hear his response, or at least all of it. But from my knowledge of Myers, I would guess that his bewildered look was due to his puzzlement at how such ridiculous questions could seriously be asked of him, and a realization that Comfort was not going to fully understand or accept his answer anyway. You cannot simply say magic words and expect someone to suddenly have a comprehension of biology; especially someone who is not genuinely interested in learning, but is instead just trying to catch you with a stupid look on your face for their own purposes.

Thought #6: Famous atheists have nothing to do with the validity of evolution.
There is a lengthy section in the video that questions the existence of “famous” atheists. The list they give leaves out most of the atheists I’ve ever heard of, and instead focuses on several well-known scientists and historical figures (such as Thomas Jefferson and Albert Einstein) who we speculate may have been atheists. It then takes a single quote from each one and declares them theists, disregarding any other quote they may have ever said about the existence or not of a god. This focus on atheism really has nothing to do with evolutionary biology, and I fail to see how making sure that these guys weren’t really atheists has anything to do with the subject at hand.  The fame level of a person doesn’t make their ideas any more or less valid. Where are all of the “famous” Creationists? I don’t know and I don’t care. It has nothing to do with anything.

Thought #7: I don’t think “evidence” means what you think it means.
Comfort spends a lot of time asking random people for “evidence” of evolution. He explains that the only “evidence” he will accept is something he can personally witness. He doesn’t “believe” in fossil records or really any kind of scientific evidence, so what is he expecting to get? And besides that, why is his burden of proof set so very high for scientific concepts, but not for God? He’s perfectly willing to accept that God is real without any such “evidence.” And he’s willing to accept creationism without witnessing it firsthand. Why the double standard? No, none of us were there a million years ago to “prove” evolution is true, but neither was Comfort there when Adam and Eve popped into existence.

Thought #8: Science is not a “belief system.”
The main argument of this video seems to be that science is just another thing you have to have “faith” in.  After all, aren’t you just having faith in scientists instead of God when you “believe in” evolution? The problem with that oft quoted line is that it is not the scientists themselves we choose to have “faith” in, nor is it the books they write. It is the scientific method itself. When using the scientific method, there are specific guidelines one must follow in order to make a claim. This claim must be tested and then confirmed or refuted by other scientists (what we call the “peer review” process). No single scientist can make a claim and expect people to just take their word for it. Many other scientists have to test and agree on the same claim for it to be considered valid. This is one of the many reasons “Darwinian evolution” is an incorrect term. So when we say we have “faith” in science, what we really mean is that we have “confidence” in the scientific method to tell us what’s true about the world. True “faith” is reading a book written in the Bronze Age and believing everything it says because it’s right there in the book.

Thought #9: You can’t pick & choose which science you like.
At another point during the film, Comfort discusses the appendix and the vestigial tail, claiming that science has actually found a use for them, therefore they are not “pointless” body parts (furthering the idea of an “intelligent designer” – the same one who gave men nipples). That may or may not be true, but what astonishes me is that he looks to science to make that claim.  After spending the entirety of the video knocking science as nothing more than a “belief system,” he uses the very thing he doesn’t believe in to prove his point. What? Christians seem to use this tactic a lot; claiming that science is useless and then using it to back up their already held belief. But that tactic gets to the very heart of the difference between “belief” and “science.” With belief, you start with an answer and look for things to confirm that answer (ie, intelligent design is true, so let’s look for the evidence to prove it). In science, it’s the other way around. You start with a question and look for an answer. There is no “cost” to finding a different answer than the one you started out with. If evolution turns out to be incorrect, then it’s incorrect and we’ll move on and look for a different answer. If creationism is incorrect, well, that’s not really an option is it?

Thought #10: Of course rape is wrong (unless it’s in the Bible).
At some point, the video circles around to objective morality, as all religious discussions must. Although I can’t see what the discussion of rape has to do with evolution, Comfort goes there anyway. He asks several of the people, including P.Z. Myers, if rape is always wrong. Most of the people agree that yes, rape is always wrong, with the exception of Myers who tries to explain rape in the context of culture (which seems pretty pointless to me when you’re talking to Ray Comfort). But of course, what Comfort is trying to point out is that we heathen atheists can’t possibly have any real sense of morality when we seem to think that the whole world is just a product of animal instinct and “survival of the fittest.”  Well, here’s the thing: since atheists don’t have a book to tell them what’s “right” and “wrong,” we tend to live by a simple rule. And that rule is this: don’t cause harm to other people. That’s what “humanism” is. We try to live by a code of ethics which, at its center, prevents us from harming others. What is harm? Something that hurts (physically or otherwise) another person. We can generally judge harm by what other people tell us hurts them, or by what we know hurts ourselves. It’s not a perfect system, but it works for us. The general theory is that (through evolution) we developed a sense of empathy from learning that we survive better as a species when we take care of one another. But that’s a broad topic for another day. The basic answer is that rape being wrong really has nothing to do with the question of evolution. I would however point out that in the Bible, rape is mentioned several times in the context of how to do it correctly (you can rape your slaves for example). Again, another topic for another day.

Thought #11: Just because science can’t answer everything, that doesn’t make it all wrong.
One of the main sticking points creationists seem to have with evolution is the “missing link” conundrum, which I believe is brought up in this video (although it’s been a week since I watched it so now things are getting a little fuzzy. . .). Creationists like to contend that since there are “gaps” in scientific theories, then the whole theory should be thrown out. But science isn’t a static thing. It’s an ongoing process to learn the truth about the world around us. It doesn’t have all of the answers, but it does have a lot of them, and the things that haven’t yet been discovered do not negate all of the things that have been discovered. That’s why scientific research never ends. Scientists are constantly looking for more answers and more refined and specific answers than the ones they had before.

Thought #12: In conclusion
It is simply human nature to wonder why we’re here and what it all means.  Ray Comfort is trying to answer those questions and so are scientists.  My view is that even if our existence here is the product of billions of years of evolution (which is the answer that science currently points to), it doesn’t make life any less amazing and dare I say, “magical.” The Earth is still amazing, love is still amazing, our children are still amazing, and our experiences are still amazing. Atheists don’t suffer from a lack of wonderment simply because we don’t believe there is a god guiding everything.  In fact, I think we see life as even more remarkable because of the fact that it all happened by chance, not in spite of it. And Ray Comfort telling me I’m going to go to hell for using the mind God supposedly gave me doesn’t convince me of his position in the slightest. Sorry Charlie, no sale.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Liberal House at the Fair - Part Two


As I mentioned in "Liberal House at the Fair - Part One," I had a chance to sit at the Democratic Party booth at our local county fair a couple of weeks ago. If you didn't read "Liberal House at the Fair - Part One," then there must be something wrong with you. Rectify the situation immediately by going back and reading "Liberal House at the Fair - Part One,” and then come back and finish up this post. Don't worry; I'll wait. In fact, why don't you just go back and read all of my blog posts from the beginning so that you won't have to pay for the book when it comes out.

So now that they're gone, here's what happened. 

The day that I was at the fair, August 1st, was the day that the new Minnesota marriage equality law went into effect. As you can imagine, the whole state was just falling apart piece by piece, and rampant heterosexual divorce was going on at an alarming rate. 

In the midst of this, an elderly gentleman walked up to the booth and motioned at the "John Ward for State Representative" literature on our table. John Ward is our current State Representative, and despite the fact that the majority of his constituency was against it, he voted "yes" on marriage equality.  A move that may very well cost him his office.

Him: "Ward really missed the boat on this one!"

Me: "What was that? Missed the boat on what?"

Him: "Oh, you know, it has something to do with that thing going on today."

Me: "You mean gay marriage?"

Him: "Yup. You guys really missed the boat on that one."

Me: "Well, I'm still married to my husband. And I'm guessing most other straight people are too."

Him: "Straight?"

Me: "You know, people who aren't gay."

Him: "Well I don't see any of them gay people being able to have babies."

Me: “I didn’t get married just to have babies.”

Him: “So why did you get married?”

Me: “Because I fell in love with someone and wanted to commit to that person and spend my life with him.”

Him (preceding his comment with a condescending chuckle): “Let me tell you something. There’s a whole lot more to marriage than just love!”

Me: “Oh, believe me, I know. This month will be my 12 year anniversary. There is a LOT more to marriage than just love. But we don’t require people to have babies when they get married. People can still get married and just choose not to have kids, right?”

Him (looking a little perplexed): “But the Catholic Churches teaches. . .”

Me (cutting him off rudely): “But I’m not Catholic. Why should I have to follow Catholic teachings when I’m not Catholic?”

Him (probably astonished that a girl less than half his age was getting cheeky with him): “Well that’s their choice to follow the gay lifestyle.  But it doesn't mean they should be able to get married!”

Me: “It’s not a choice.”

Him: “What, do you think they’re born that way or something?”

Me: “Yes. How else would it happen?”

Him: “It’s all about the parents and how they raise their kids.”

Me: “But all of their parents are straight.”

Him: “What?”

Me: “Their parents are straight, you know; not gay.”

Him (shaking his head): “Well, the parents must have done something wrong.”

Me: “Then how do you account for families where one kid grows up to be gay and all of the other siblings are straight?”

Him (probably growing annoyed with my incessant logic): “That kid must have just missed the boat somewhere. You guys definitely lost a lot of votes on this one. You really missed the boat.”

He then walked off realizing that you just can’t reason with pinko, hippie, commie, queer-lovers who have clearly missed the boat. 

Oddly enough, it’s been 14 days and my hetero-marriage has endured.   No one has torn me from the arms of my husband in order to force me into a marriage with a woman, although I’m sure it’s only a matter of time. . . . .

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Liberal House at the Fair - Part One

I had the opportunity last week to staff the DFL booth at the county fair (that's "Democrat-Farmer-Labor" party for all you non-Minnesotans out there). There really aren’t tons of our kind in this red county, so I try to step up and help out if I can. We need to stick together.

While I was doing some serious people watching from my chair at the booth, a woman came up to me and initiated a conversation. She told me that while she’s not a Republican, she just can’t get on board with the Democrats because of the “gun issue.”  The rest of the conversation went a little something like this, although this is abridged for length purposes, and probably not verbatim due to me not possessing a photographic memory:

Me: “So what are the policies you see happening that are changing your ability to own or use your guns?”

Her (with a look of sheer astonishment on her face): “Are you kidding me?!”

Me: “No, I’m really not. I’m curious what the policies are because I personally haven’t seen anything change in the past several years. We have guns in our house, my in-laws all have guns in their houses, and no one has had to give anything up. What policies do you mean?”

Her (with a look of sheer astonishment on her face): “Are you KIDDING me?!”

Me: “No, I’m really not. I’m trying to be genuine with you here. I want to know what laws are being changed because I want to be informed as much as you do. Can you give me something more specific?”

Her (with a look of sheer astonishment on her face): “Are you KIDDING me?!”

We went around in circles like this for awhile, until her husband walked up to help her out.

Her (looking at her husband): “She doesn’t even know about what the Democrats are doing to gun rights!”

Her (looking back at me): “I just can’t believe that you have no idea about what your own party is doing!”

Him (shaking his head at me condescendingly): “Listen, the problem with Obama is he thinks the whole country is like Chicago, so he wants to make sure nobody has weapons. But they’ve done studies that show that in the places with the least restrictions on guns, they also have the lowest crime rates. Because when you don’t know who around you has a gun, you’re less likely to commit a crime.”

Me: “Well, honestly, it wouldn’t make me feel any safer to think this entire crowd could be carrying concealed guns.  I mean, I’m sure you’re a perfectly normal guy, but how do I really know if you’re crazy or not? And I’ve heard the complete opposite of that statistic; that the states that have the tightest gun control also have the lowest crime rates.”

Her: “Where did you hear that from?”

Me: “I don’t know, I guess I can’t pinpoint the exact study I read.”

Her: “Well, give me your email address and I’ll email you the correct stories. Because I don’t get all of my news from one place. I watch Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC, and none of them give you the whole story.”

Me (writing my email address on a scrap of paper and handing it her): “Yes, please. I’d love to read it. I think it’s important to revaluate your position based on new evidence, so I’ll be interested to see what you send. Like I said, I know a lot of hunters and even I have guns in my house.”

Him: “Oh, and let me tell you something else. This whole issue has nothing to do with ‘hunting.’ It’s about our freedom to protect ourselves from the government if some crazy dictator takes over the government.”

Me: “Ya, but I mean, we live in a democracy. How likely do you really think it is for a dictator to take over?”

Him: “It happens all the time! What do you think America was like before 1776?!”

Me: “Well, it was a monarchy.”

Him: “What?”

Me: “You know, a monarchy? A king? There was a king in charge of everything but now we have a democracy, so I’m just not sure that we’re facing an inevitable dictatorship. And even if we were, I’m not sure guns would keep us safe. I mean, the government already has drones and nuclear weapons.”

Him: “Exactly! That’s why we need to be able to protect ourselves! I’ll tell you one thing. I’m a Christian, and if you’re a Christian in this country, you’re put on a terrorist watch list. Did you know that? I’m on a terrorist watch list! And if you belong to a pro-life group, you’re considered part of a ‘hate group.’ And you can take that to the bank.”

Me (getting increasingly annoyed because he pulled out the ‘Christian victimization’ card): “How do you know that? I find that a little hard to believe.”

Him: “A friend of mine told me.”

Me (a little worried about what’s going to come out of my mouth right now): “Well, I’m going to share something pretty personal with you here. I’m an atheist, and if I had to guess, I would say that at least 90% of the Democrats I know are Christians. So if anyone is going to be looked at closely or put on a watch list, it’s probably me. It's certainly not as if the atheists have taken over the Democratic party.”

Him (probably horrified to learn that he’s been arguing with the anti-Christ): “Ya well, those other Democrats are probably on a watch list too then. Obama’s keeping an eye on them all to make sure Christians don’t get too much power in this country.”

Me (seeing this conversation going absolutely nowhere): “So let me just ask you this then; do you think private citizens should have the right to own any weapons that the military has? Like drones, grenades, nuclear weapons?”

Him: “Well, there already are limits. You have to have a license to have a blah, blah, blah. . . .”

Me (cutting him off): “No, I mean, in your perfect world, if you got to decide, should we all be able to own any technology that the military has access to? If your concern is protecting yourself from the government, shouldn’t you be able to have all the same stuff the government has?”

Him (looking perplexed): “Well, I don’t know. Probably, ya.”

Her: “We really need to get going. I’ll email you those articles.”

Me: “Yes, please do. I’ll keep an eye out for them. Thanks!”

At one point, I did try to point out that while yes, there is a lot of fear in America right now, that the fear seems to really benefit gun manufacturers the most. All I got in return was an eye roll and an incredulous “that has nothing to do with it.” I brought the gun lobby issue up more than once, but I guess I must have just sounded like a crazy conspiracy theorist to them.

I still haven’t gotten any emails. But I have a whole new understanding of Obama’s plan for his evil empire. Good thing I’m not a Christian or I might be scared and run right out to buy a whole bunch of new guns. That is, if you could even still purchase a gun in America, which you clearly can't.