Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness Against Thy Neighbor

I am getting so sick of this, I could spit.

Commenting on the recent shootings at the New Life Church — and on the bravery of one person who helped stop the shooter before he could do more damage — the Atheism Sucks blog comments thusly:

What would the atheist do in this situation but run away and scream, “Hey, survival of the fittest! See ya later suckers!”

And when confronted with atheists in the comments, pointing out that this is not even remotely how atheists think, feel, believe or act, the blogger, Frank Walton, still insists that his opinion of atheists and atheism is correct. To quote again:

The atheist can save a life if they want, but according to the atheist worldview man is nothing more than matter and motion – saving a human life is no more better than saving protoplasm.


Deep breath.

I can understand this attitude from a theist who hasn’t spent any time talking with atheists. I can understand it from the theists who come into the atheist blogosphere without any previous knowledge or experience of actual atheists, who only know about atheists and atheism from the monstrous, pathetic picture their pastors or other religious leaders have painted for them.

But once you’ve actually spoken with a few atheists — once you’ve had, say, half a dozen atheists tell you, “Of course I treasure human life; of course I believe in ethics and altruism; of course I’m not nihilistic or amoral or hopeless or joyless” — then you don’t have any excuse.

You know that it’s not true. You have the evidence of thousands of people telling you, and showing you with the reality of their lives, that it’s not true. You have, just for example, atheist soldiers, atheist cops, atheist firefighters… all willing to risk their lives for their fellow humans on a daily basis.

And yet you still insist on saying that atheists don’t value human life; that atheists selfishly look after themselves at the expense of helping others.

So what I want to know is this:

Whatever happened to “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor”?

Every now and then, I do an ego-Google search on my name. (No, this isn’t a tangent; stay with me.) And experience has taught me to search on my name plus the words “Comforting Thoughts.” Because a number of Christian ministers have been using my essay, Comforting Thoughts About Death That Have Nothing To Do With God, in their sermons — as an example of why atheism is a depressing, joyless, terrifying, nihilistic worldview.

How do they manage this, you may ask?

Well, they take the first part of the essay — the part where I try to be honest about the very real problem of permanent death and how frightening and paralyzing it can be — and they quote it out of context. They make it seem as if that’s the entire thrust of my piece. They conveniently neglect to mention the entire damn point of the essay… which is that, while the permanence of death may seem to be an impossibly horrible buzzkill for atheists, in fact it is not.

It is difficult to see this behavior as anything other than a flat-out lie. It is a deliberate misrepresentation of others, for the sole purpose of supporting your own world view.

And again I ask:

Whatever happened to “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor”?

Even I know that you shouldn’t bear false witness against your neighbor. Even I know that you shouldn’t intentionally tell lies about people; that you shouldn’t deliberately misrepresent other people’s actions and beliefs and opinions. And I’m an atheist. I don’t think it’s wrong because God told it to Abraham. I think it’s wrong because it hurts people needlessly.

How difficult is that?

Is your belief that atheism is a joyless, heartless worldview so important to your faith that you have to deny the largely positive reality of atheist lives? Is your belief so important that you not only deny that reality in your own heart and mind, but feel compelled to convince others of it? Is your belief so important that you have to lie about that reality, not just to yourself, but to the rest of the world?

And is your faith so weak that it can’t accept the existence of people who don’t share it and yet have good, happy lives, full of meaning and connection and concern for others?

“Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.”

It’s not rocket science.

(P.S. Thanks to Susie Bright for the tip.)

Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness Against Thy Neighbor

Atheism in Pop Culture Part 7: The Motherlode

Ted Williams and Nina Hartley. David Cronenberg and Dave Barry. Brian Eno and Barry Manilow. Joss Whedon and Andy Rooney. Sarah Vowell and Ted Turner.

All atheists.

I’ve found the “atheism in pop culture” motherlode, people. It’s the Celebrity Atheist List, “an offbeat collection of notable individuals who have been public about their lack of belief in deities.”

And it’s hilarious.

It’s just such a fascinating mish-mosh. I’d be hard pressed to find any other characteristic that all these people have in common, apart from being carbon-based humanoid life forms.

I mean — Barry Manilow?


And that’s what I like about it. It’s such a rich vein of counter-examples to the stereotype of atheists as sad, hopeless, amoral, unpatriotic, self-centered nihilists who only live for ourselves and only live for the moment.

After all, are you really going to call Dave Barry sad and hopeless? Andy Rooney unpatriotic? Studs Terkel nihilistic? Salman Rushdie self-centered and amoral? Did Pat Tillman live only for himself? Does Barbara Ehrenreich live only for the moment?

Plus it’s just hilarious. I mean — Mickey Dolenz and Ingmar Bergman! Jean-Luc Godard and Ani DiFranco! Ray Romano and Marie Curie! Noam Chomsky and Bjork!

Hours of time-wasting fun. Check it out. And tell me who your favorites are!

Atheism in Pop Culture Part 7: The Motherlode

Not Butch, Not Femme

This has been a very long, very busy weekend, and I didn’t have time to write my usual Sunday Sermon. So instead I have a piece from the archives. I should have a nice new atheist rant up in a day or two. This piece originally ran in Gilrfriends magazine; it was obviously addressed to a lesbian readership, but I think it’ll be interesting to my non-lesbian readers as well.

Not Butch, Not Femme
by Greta Christina

Once upon a time in the ’50s, all lesbians were supposed to come in two flavors: butch and femme. If you didn’t, you got called “kiki,” and people pointed and scoffed. Then the androgynous ’70s happened, and if you were one of the two old flavors, you got scolded and called a bad feminist. And at last came the sexy, liberating modern era, with its dyke porn and dildos and fuck-as-you-are mentality.

Except it seems like we’re all supposed to come in the two flavors again. And if you don’t, if you say you’re cool with butch/femme but it’s not who you are, plenty of dykes will scoff and sneer and say, “Yes, dear, you keep telling yourself that.”

And it annoys the fuck out of me.

Okay. First, I need to convince you that I’m not a femme. After all, I do have long hair, wear dresses, and even use lipstick now and then. When I’m doing historical recreation, I typically go in male drag (hence the tricorn hat and the Napoleonic uniform in the blog photo)– but in my daily life, I look like a girl. Woman. Whatever.

But here’s how I know I’m not a femme. See, women who are femme usually say it isn’t about clothes. Or makeup. Or how you fuck, or even who you fuck. It’s about something else, they say, some core identity, impossible to explain but still crucial.

And I have no idea what they’re talking about. Oh, I believe it exists for them — I have my share of inexpressible but crucial identity things. But femme, I have to take on faith. On that bones-and-guts comprehension level, I just don’t get it.

But a lot of dykes react to this sentiment with either “Isn’t that funny” or “Isn’t that sad.” Isn’t it funny, the girl thinks she’s not a femme; isn’t it sad how she denies the obvious. Lots of dykes are convinced that butch/femme is universal, a lesbian archetype that applies to every woman with the hots for other women. I guess it’s understandable: plenty of people think the defining features of their lives are true for everyone. Like that headline in the Onion: “Area Stoner Convinced Everyone On TV Also Stoned.”

I gotta tell you, though, it’s annoying as heck. I once worked with a hardcore butch who saw me hauling a 50-pound box downstairs and got seriously alarmed. “You shouldn’t be doing that,” she said, with an obvious stare at my sundress and shaved legs. I laughed it off, reminding her that hauling boxes was, in fact, my job. But I had to wonder: If she’d been boss, would she have even hired a “femme” for the box-hauling job?

And there’s all these conclusions people jump to based on my supposed femmeness. I’m sick of dykes assuming that, because I’m a femme, I therefore must: lust after butches, obsess about my looks, hate physical labor, be a do-me queen in bed, and follow when I dance. (It was ever such fun to come from the hetero ballroom scene, with its assumption that women are always follows, and arrive in the dyke ballroom scene — with its assumption that femmes are always follows.) Even if I were a femme, I might find this stuff presumptuous.

Plus it’s totally patronizing. Telling other grownups that you know them better than they know themselves? When you barely know them at all? Ew. It’s not that I’m always perfectly self-perceptive. But telling adult women that they don’t know who they are — don’t we gripe about the heterosexist patriarchal blah blah world doing that to us? Do we really want to do it to each other?

So cut it out, y’all. Be butch or femme all you want — it clearly means a lot to you, and I think that’s ducky. But quit assuming that it applies to every dyke you meet. It doesn’t. Deal with it.

Not Butch, Not Femme

Carnival of the Godless #80

Carnival of the Godless #80 is up at The Jesus Myth.

My pieces in this Carnival: True or False? Helpful or Harmful? The Two Different Arguments About Religion, and If You Weren’t An Atheist, What Would You Be?.

My favorite other pieces in this Carnival:

More Perspective on the Pledge from Atheist Ethicist — an absolutely brilliant “parallel universe” piece, reminiscent of Douglas Hofstadter, that makes vividly clear what, exactly, is wrong with the “under God” part of the Pledge of Allegiance. Pull quote: “Then, 50 years ago, Congress added the word white to the Pledge of Allegiance. We are supposed to be one white nation, indivisible.”

And The Grinch and the True Meaning of Christmas (plus the piece on Christmas traditions that it links to) from Letters from a Broad. She says a lot of how I feel about Christmas — both the fucked-up parts and the neat parts.

The next Carnival of the Godless will be on December 23. If you’re a godless blogger and want a piece of the carnival action, here’s the submission form. Happy reading, and happy blogging!

Carnival of the Godless #80

Friday Cat Blogging on Saturday: Violet On Laptop Case On Box

And now, a cute picture of our cat.


You know how if there’s a thing, the cat has to sit on it? If there’s a magazine on the sofa or a file folder on the bed, that’s where the cat will sit?

This picture illustrates that principle two-fold. The giant cardboard box in the living room is our new coffee table before it was assembled. Here is Violet, sitting not just on the giant box, but on my laptop case on the giant box.

BTW, I’ve read that the “if there’s a thing, the cat has to sit on it” principle has to do with cats’ territorial instincts. Any zoologists out there know if that’s true?

Friday Cat Blogging on Saturday: Violet On Laptop Case On Box

Carnival of Feminists #49 and Skeptic’s Circle #75

Carnival of Feminists #49 is up at Days in a wannabe punk’s life.

Skeptic’s Circle #75 is up at Pro-Science.

If you’re a feminist or skeptical blogger, and want to submit a blog post to one of these carnivals/ circles, here are the submission forms for the Carnival of Feminists and Skeptic’s Circle. Happy reading, and happy blogging!

Carnival of Feminists #49 and Skeptic’s Circle #75

How Sweet the Sound: Atheism and Religious Music

This weird thing has been happening since I started with the atheist blogging. I’m not happy about it, and I’m wondering if other godless people have experienced it — and if so, how you’ve dealt with it.

What’s happening is that I don’t want to listen to religious music anymore.

When a song about Jesus or God comes up on my shuffle, I feel this cringing, this little internal flinch. And I almost always skip past it.

It didn’t used to be that way. I was always able to just listen to the music, and either ignore the words or appreciate them as expressing a common human sentiment I didn’t happen to share. Like sad tortured love songs, or murder ballads. Unless the religious content was unusually heavy or actually offensive, I never even thought about it that much.

But since I’ve been spending so much time writing — and thinking — about atheism and religion, my feelings about religious music have become completely different. Not my thoughts, you understand, or my opinions. My thoughts and opinions about religious music are very much what they ever were. It’s a purely emotional response. The response is, “This is fucked-up. I don’t want to listen to this.”

And I don’t like it.

Some of my favorite music has religious content. I don’t want to not like it. I don’t want to flinch when I hear it. Some of the best music ever written is religious music. And there’s lots of it. I don’t want to be cut off from it all.

It’s especially a problem now because it’s Christmastime. And while I realize this makes me a total freak, I actually like Christmas carols. A lot of them, anyway. I don’t like the sappy Musak versions, or the drippy modern ones like (shudder) “The Little Drummer Boy.” But “Joy to the World”? “Angels We Have Heard On High”? “The Angel Gabriel”? That shit rocks!

I don’t want to not like Christmas music. I like liking Christmas music. I want to be able to hear it, and sing it, and be happy about it. And as much as I like the secular songs and the parodies, I don’t want to be limited to them.

It’s not usually a problem if the music is in Latin or something; I can listen to Mozart’s “Requiem” happily and joyfully. It’s definitely the words that create the problem.

Which clues me in to why I think this is happening. Since I started atheist blogging, I read religious writing all the time. I read more religious writing than I have at any time in my life since I was a religion major in college. Way, way more. I read it, I think about it, I engage with it, I debate it — on an almost daily basis.

So now, when I hear, “Help me, Jesus, my soul’s in your hands,” or, “And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing on,” or, for fuck’s sake, “Oh come, oh come, Emmanuel/And ransom captive Israel” (my candidate for the most anti-Semitic Christmas carol ever)… it doesn’t make me think of country roads or street-corner choirs or snowy evenings by the tree with my family listening to the Time/Life Christmas record. It makes me think of Michael Behe, and Dinesh D’Souza, and whatever other lackwit is getting up my nose that week. I don’t want to sing along. I want to argue.

But I’m really not thrilled about this. I’m very much hoping it’s a phase. Again, there’s a vast and wonderful world of religious music out there, and I don’t want to get annoyed every time I hear it. If I can happily listen to Smokey Robinson sing about loving a girl he doesn’t like very much, or Nick Cave sing about committing mass murder, I should bloody well be able to listen Johnny Cash or the Anonymous 4 sing about Jesus.

So I’m wondering: Have any of the godless people reading this blog ever had this happen? Did you get over it, or is it still a problem? How did you deal with it? This is bugging me, and any advice you can give would be greatly appreciated.

How Sweet the Sound: Atheism and Religious Music

Pain, Connection, and Being Here Now

Note to family members and others who don’t want to read about my personal sex life: This post discusses my personal sex life, extensively, and in quite a bit of detail. If that’s the sort of thing you don’t want to read, then you really, really don’t want to read this one. Trust me on this.

This piece originally appeared in the Blowfish Blog.

Why does pain feel good?

Why, for some people, under some conditions, do certain kinds of stimuli that my body would normally process as unpleasant get processed as pleasant instead? Not just pleasant, but hot and dirty and intensely desirable?

I’ve been a practicing masochist (and sadist) for so long that I sometimes forget what an odd thing this is. Pain is pretty much by definition the body saying No. Why is it that in certain conditions, with certain kinds of pain, my body says Yes instead?

Not just Yes, but More, Harder, Please Don’t Stop?

And I am talking about pain. Not “intense sensation.” Sometimes I’ll experience a mild spanking or a sweet flogging as more like a massage or something. But that’s not what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about P-A-I-N Pain, the kind of pain that my body is screaming No to at the exact moment it’s screaming Yes.

It’s a little odd. What is it about?

First, let me state for the record: I’m just talking about myself here. I’m not proposing a Unified Field Theory of Sexual Masochism. I’m trying to figure out what’s true for me, on the assumption that it might be true for some other people as well.

Okay. So what’s this about?

A lot of it is about context, of course: emotions, fantasies. If you have fantasies about power, subservience, force, what have you, pain can intensify the fantasy and make it more immediate, more believable. It’s the enforcer of the power, the reminder of who’s in charge.

But for me at least, the fantasy isn’t necessary. I can get off on a spanking in a completely egalitarian, “this is the two of us doing things together that we both get off on” context, with no power games even in my head. The context does need to be sexual — if someone hit me across the ass with a cane out of nowhere, I’d experience it as purely unpleasant badness, and I’d be pissed — but it doesn’t need to be about subservience or power or any of that. It can be about two (or more) equal people having sexy fun.

So there’s clearly a big component of this that is purely physical: a physiological crossing of the wires so deeply ingrained that I sometimes think it’s genetic.

Of course you’ve got your endorphins, the natural feel-good opiates produced by your brain when you’re in pain, etc. etc. But that doesn’t completely explain it, either. Endorphins are why a spanking or whipping will generally make me high and happy over the course of a scene. They don’t explain why the moment of pain itself — the instant the lash hits my skin — gets translated into ecstasy.

I think there’s something else going on as well, something that works both in my body and my heart.

It’s that pain gets through.

I can be a fairly distant person: frightened of strangers, lots of defenses and barriers, more comfortable alone than in a crowd, more comfortable expressing myself and connecting with people at a distance (hence the writing. and double-hence the blogging!), with a powerful need to withdraw into my head dozens of times a day. Intimacy and connection are hard for me, and during intense moments of intimacy I have a tendency to get distracted, space out, change the subject, crack a joke. Not that uncommon, I suppose.

And I’m also a person who has a hard time being here now. My inner chatterbox is always going a mile a minute, fretting over the past and making elaborate algorithms for the future (“if she says X, I’ll say Y; if B happens, I’ll do C”). Living in the moment, being completely present and conscious in the here and now: not my specialty. Again, probably not that unusual.

Even during sex. I love vanilla sex too, and once I get lost in the moment of my tongue on a clit or of fingers on mine, I can get well and truly lost. But it takes more concentration for me to get there, more conscious effort to stay in the moment and not space out or get distracted by some weird mental tangent.

Which brings me back to pain.

There is no distraction from the lash of a cane. There is no spacing out, no changing of the subject, no cracking of jokes. The pain brings me into the here and now more effectively and reliably than almost any other experience: more than music, more than exercise, more than art. (The only other thing that really compares is food — and it has to be astonishingly good food.)

And the pain reminds me that there’s another person out there. The moment that the lash lands on my skin is the moment that another person is touching me. And it’s a touch that gets all the way through. It’s a touch that cuts through my defenses and distractions and the ceaseless running commentary in my head, to land directly in my heart. It’s a touch that makes me know, just for a microsecond, that we are both here now, and that we’re here together.

Pain, Connection, and Being Here Now

Hopelessness, Stalinism, Yawn: Pope Ratzi’s Encyclical Against Atheism

It’s not like I expected the Pope to be gung-ho about atheism.

It’s not like I expected him to be all ecumenical and Unitarian about it. It’s not like I expected him to say, “We love our atheist brothers and sisters, and we think they make some good points, and everyone finds God in their own way, and as long as they live ethical lives they’re okay with us.” I’m not completely stupid.

But really. Is this the best he could come up with? This tired old crap? “Atheism is hopeless,” and “Atheism caused Stalinism”?

Here in the atheist blogosphere, we eat arguments like that for breakfast. (We’ll start the bidding at, “No, it’s not,” and, “No, it didn’t.”) Does he really think that’s original? Or, indeed, interesting?

So here’s what I actually did find interesting about the Pope’s recent encyclical about atheism:

It’s such a perfect example of the True or False? Helpful or Harmful? point I’ve been making — about how far too many religious debaters mix up the arguments about whether religion is true with the arguments about whether it’s beneficial.

I mean, look at it. In this encyclical, Pope Ratzi addresses one of the central atheist arguments for Why God Doesn’t Exist: the problem of suffering. He spells it out very eloquently, in fact.

The atheism of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries is — in its origins and aims — a type of moralism: a protest against the injustices of the world and of world history. A world marked by so much injustice, innocent suffering, and cynicism of power cannot be the work of a good God. A God with responsibility for such a world would not be a just God, much less a good God. It is for the sake of morality that this God has to be contested.


I rarely say this, but the Pope sure got that right.

But his response? His response to this centuries-old argument against the existence of God?

Atheism is bad.

Atheism is harmful.

Atheism is a philosophy that is devoid of hope; and atheism “has led to the greatest forms of cruelty and violations of justice.”

I’m not even going to get into why atheism isn’t, in fact, a hopeless philosophy. I’m not even going to get into why atheism wasn’t responsible for Stalinism. Plenty of atheist writers, including myself, have addressed either or both of these questions in lavish detail. (For a couple of examples, here’s Ebon Muse on the hopelessness question and the Stalinism question.)

What I want to point out instead is that “Atheism is bad” is a lousy response to an argument for why God doesn’t exist.

In fact, it’s not even a lousy response. It’s not actually a response at all. It’s changing the subject because you don’t like where the argument is heading. It’s a classic example of an ad hominem argument, and a schoolyard one at that. “Dickie says Santa Claus isn’t real, and it’s just our moms and dads sneaking stuff under the tree.” “Yeah, well, Dickie is a nerd, and he made my sister cry.” Even if Dickie were a nerd, and even if he had made your sister cry, that’s hardly an argument for the existence of Santa.

It was actually sort of disappointing. I mean, the guy is the head of one of the largest and most powerful religions in the world. He must have spent years — decades — studying theology and apologetics. And this is what he comes up with against atheism? Hopelessness, and Stalinism? Couldn’t he at least have come up with something original? Atheism will make you impotent? Atheism makes people root for the Los Angeles Dodgers? Atheism has led to deconstructionism, which is boring and impenetrable? Atheism is the reason the Earth will be burned up in five billion years?

I guess not.

Hopelessness, and Stalinism.


Hopelessness, Stalinism, Yawn: Pope Ratzi’s Encyclical Against Atheism